Adjudicatory Hearings

The term “hearing” does not have a fixed meaning in the field of administrative law; it varies with the types of issues considered.  Thus, when a statute requires a hearing, the question is not whether a hearing should be held, but rather what type of proceeding is appropriate to the nature of the case.

The type of hearing that is required depends upon such matters as the private interests that will be affected by official action, the risk of the erroneous deprivation of such interests through the use of informal procedures, the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards, and the government’s interest, including the burdens that additional or substitute procedural requirements would entail.

Unless precluded by law, the 1961 Model State Administrative Procedure Act permits the informal disposition of any contested case by stipulation, agreed settlement, consent order, or default.  The 1981 Model State Administrative Procedure Act also encourages the informal settlement of matters.  In addition, the 1981 Model Act sets forth specific procedures for a default  and provides, as well, for the use of use of a conference adjudicative procedure if the procedure does not violate any provision of law and the matter is entirely within one or more enumerated categories, including

  • a matter in which there is no disputed issue of material fact;
  • a matter in which there is a disputed issue of material fact, if the matter involves only a monetary amount of not more than a specified amount;
  • a disciplinary sanction against a prisoner;
  • a disciplinary sanction against a student which does not involve expulsion from an academic institution or suspension for more than 10 days.
  • a disciplinary sanction against a licensee which does not involve revocation, suspension, annulment, withdrawal, or amendment of a license;

The hearing requirements under the Federal Administrative Procedure Act do not apply to the extent that there is involved:

  • a matter subject to a subsequent trial of the law and the facts de novo in a court;
  • the selection or tenure of an employee, except an administrative law judge;
  • proceedings in which a decision rests solely on inspections, tests, or elections;
  • the conduct of military or foreign affairs functions;
  • a case in which an agency is acting as an agent for a court; or
  • the certification of worker representatives.

Agencies no less than courts can grant summary judgment, and the Due Process Clause does not require an administrative hearing if there is no disputed issue of material fact to resolve. The Federal Administrative Procedure Act gives administrative law judges the discretion to regulate the course of the hearing.

For instance, appellant federal employee was fired for inadequate performance as an attorney for appellee Department of Housing and Urban Development. Appellant was reinstated by consent decree, which stated that appellant would not be discharged except for just cause. Ten years later, after a hearing, appellant was discharged for insubordination. Appellant filed an action against appellee, contending that appellee failed to comply with both the earlier consent decree and the United States Constitution. The district court remanded the matter, ordering appellee to appoint an impartial hearing officer to hear the dispute and to provide appellant with the right to appeal to an impartial board of review. Appellant lost at both levels. The district court upheld appellee’s findings. On appeal, the court found that under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Merit Systems Protection Board had exclusive jurisdiction over civil service personnel disputes. The district court lacked authority to remand the case. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment to the extent it held that appellant’s discharge did not transgress the decree. The judgment was otherwise vacated for want of jurisdiction[i].

Under the 1981 Model State Administrative Procedure Act, an agency may use summary adjudicative proceedings specified in the Act as long as the use of those proceedings in the circumstances does not violate any provision of law.

[i] Paige v. Cisneros, 91 F.3d 40 (7th Cir. Ill. 1996)


Inside Adjudicatory Hearings