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Administrative Agency Adjudications

In the process of adjudication, an agency decides on present and future rights and liabilities of parties to an administrative proceeding.  Agencies apply relevant law and policies for adjudicating contested cases.  Administrative proceedings need not contain all the formalities of ordinary judicial proceedings.[i] The Federal Administrative Procedure Act does not impose on any agency the requirement of holding a formal adversary hearing.[ii] However, the 1961 Revised Model State Administrative Procedure Act prescribes a single type of adjudicative hearing in the contested cases.  Formal hearing involves presentation of evidence, cross-examination and rebuttal.  Decision in formal hearing will be based solely on evidence of record.

Administrative agencies are outside the purview of the technical procedures followed in trial courts.  Rules governing trial before courts do not apply to agency proceedings.[iii] Agencies are also empowered to prescribe rules of practice and procedure governing proceedings before the agency in the absence of statutory provision.  In making procedural rules, agencies are given wide discretion.  However, agencies cannot assume the power of legislature in making procedural rules.

Agency’s jurisdiction is the power given by the law to decide controversies.  Jurisdiction in administrative law has three aspects: personal jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction and agency’s authority under statute.  An agency is without subject matter jurisdiction when it lacks statutory power to consider a matter.[iv]

Proceedings followed in agency adjudication differ with the character of action.  Generally, proceedings are instituted by simple ex parte application, such as an application for license or permit.  Some proceedings are instituted by the filing of a charge or complaint by an aggrieved person.  When formal complaint is filed, notice of hearing will be issued.  The presiding officer should give all parties full opportunity to file pleadings and motions.  Parties are permitted to file notice pleadings also.  Additionally, agencies can require responsive pleadings as well.

There is no substantive right or constitutional right to hearing in agency adjudication.  However, the Administrative Procedure Act describes the procedure to be followed in conducting adjudication hearing when statute or constitutional law compels such a hearing.  Accordingly, the type of hearing differs from case to case.  A contested case can be disposed of by stipulation, agreed settlement, consent order, or default.[v]

Generally, all interested parties may participate in adjudication before an agency.  A party includes a person or agency named or admitted as a party.[vi] An interested party is a person to whom the agency action is specifically directed, or a person named as a party in an agency proceeding or allowed to intervene or participate in an agency proceeding.  The presiding officer at a formal agency hearing is the agency itself; one or more of the members of the body which comprises the agency; one or more administrative law judges (ALJs)’ or boards or other employees specially designated under regulatory statutes.[vii] The presiding officers may be substituted and may also be disqualified for bias.

In agency adjudication, the constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel does not arise.  However, parties are permitted to be advised and represented by counsel at the party’s own expense.  Denial of right to counsel may result in the setting aside of an agency decision.  Rehearing is allowed on setting aside of agency decision on the ground of denial of right to counsel.  However, a party is at liberty to waive his/her statutory right to counsel.  Failure to obtain representation by counsel will not affect the need to exhaust administrative remedy.  The time and place of hearing is decided by the ALJ.  In fixing the time and place for hearing, convenience and necessity of the parties should be considered.  In administrative adjudication hearing, the number and scope of witnesses are restricted.

General rules of evidence applicable in trial courts do not apply in administrative hearings.  The presiding officer has the power to rule on offers of proof and receive relevant evidence.  Unprivileged oral or documentary evidence is admissible. Evidence produced should not be irrelevant, immaterial, or unduly repetitious.

The burden of proof in agency adjudication is on the proponent of a rule or order.  The proponent of an order is the person who brings forward a matter for litigation or action.  When the agency head does not preside at the reception of evidence, the hearing officer makes an initial recommended decision.[viii] In the absence of appeal or review, the recommended decision becomes the decision of the agency.

After the initial decision, the parties may appeal to the agency, or the agency may review the initial decision on its own motion.  The time allowed for filing an appeal is 10 days from the date of order.[ix] The ten days time provided for appeal is jurisdictional and may not be extended without good cause.  The failure to timely petition for a hearing constitutes a waiver of any right to administrative review.

A reviewing agency has the power to review matters not raised in the proceedings below, although the agency may choose to exercise such power liberally.  The agency, while sitting in review of a hearing officer’s initial decision, is authorized to substitute its judgment for that of the hearing officer.

A final order is issued by the agency, at the close of an administrative proceeding.  The final order may be affirmative, negative, injunctive, or declaratory in form, but the remedy must be within the authority delegated to the agency. When a final order is issued, the Administrative Procedure acts generally provide the sole and exclusive method to obtain judicial review of a final administrative decision.  The Federal Administrative Dispute Resolution Act explicitly authorizes the use of alternative means of dispute resolution to resolve controversies related to administrative programs.  Alternative means of dispute resolution are voluntary procedures which supplement or limit other available agency dispute resolution techniques.

[i]Hadley v. Dep’t of Admin., 411 So. 2d 184 (Fla. 1982)

[ii]5 USCS § 554

[iii]Penn Cent. Corp. v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 56 N.Y.2d 120 (N.Y. 1982)

[iv]Golden v. Joseph, 307 N.Y. 62 (N.Y. 1954)

[v]The 1961 Model State Administrative Procedure Act

[vi]5 USCS § 551

[vii]5 USCS § 556

[viii]The Federal Administrative Procedure Act and the 1981 Model State Administrative Procedure Act

[ix]The 1981 Model State Administrative Procedure Act

Inside Administrative Agency Adjudications