Administrative adjudication is the process by which administrative agencies judge the actions of parties involved in an administrative action following the procedure established under administrative law.
Generally, the legislature provides that any interested person can participate in an agency action. The criteria to become a party in an administrative action are not as restrictive as in a judicial proceeding. The case and controversy restrictions provided in the U.S. constitution do not aply to administrative adjudication. According to the case and controversy clause, people have standing to challenge a government action in a federal court only if they are injured by the action.
The right to participate in an administrative adjudication is not determined by the U.S. constitution. The statutes that provide the procedures to be followed in agency adjudication confers the right of standing in an agency action.
The Federal Administrative Procedure Act (FAPA) defines a party to an administrative action as a person or agency interested in the action that is already admitted or seeks for intervention in an action. A party to an action can be admitted as the person or agency is entitled to participate in the action, or can be allowed to participate for limited purpose.
According to the 1961 version of Model State Administrative Procedure Act (MSAPA), a party to an agency proceeding is a person or other agency that properly seeks to be admitted as a party or is entitled by law to appear as a party to the proceeding. MSAPA of 1981 provides that, a party is a person on whom an administrative action is directed. According to MSAPA party also includes a person entitled to be a party in an action, and a person who is allowed to intervene in an action.
As a general rule, any person including an organization that is injured by an agency action can be made party in an agency adjudication. The word ‘party’ in an agency action is given a broad meaning. Even if a person is only present in an adjudication proceeding, s/he can be considered as a party to the proceeding.
An administrative agency can make another agency a party to administrative adjudicatory proceedings.
According to MSAPA of 1961, and FAPA, an agency comes under the meaning of a party to an agency proceeding. Under both the acts, a party to an agency proceeding includes any other agency that seeks to get admitted as a party in an administrative proceeding.[i]
According to MSAPA of 1981, an agency comes under the meaning of person. A person is defined under MSAPA of 1981 as an individual, a partnership, a corporation, an association, or a governmental subdivision. A public or private organization or a legal entity also comes under the definition of a person. Another agency can also be called a person according to MSAPA.
A person who can intervene in an administrative proceeding can also be considered as a party to a proceeding.[ii] Administrative agencies are granted discretionary power to grant or deny a petition to intervene. The discretionary power is allotted to administrative agencies to prevent unnecessary intervention.[iii] Persons who are not sufficiently interested in a suit can pose hindrance to proper functioning of the adjudication proceedings. Therefore, with the discretionary power, administrative agencies can administer participation of persons in an administrative action.
Administrative agencies can also allow persons who do not have right to seek judicial review in an action to intervene in an administrative adjudication. [iv] This is because administrative agencies are not bound by the civil procedure rules. Administrative agencies can apply discretionary power to involve parties in an action based on the statute prescribed. The only ground that is mandatory is that the discretionary power should be used reasonably and not arbitrarily.[v]
The procedure to intervene in agency adjudication is provided in MSAPA of 1981. A person who wants to intervene in an administrative action should produce a written application to the hearing officer. The application should describe the applicant’s rights, duties, privileges, immunities, or other legal interests that can be affected if the applicant is not allowed to intervene. If the applicant is qualified to intervene in a proceeding according to any legal provision it also should be provided in the application.
If a hearing officer finds that the application is legal and the proper conduct of the administrative proceedings will not be impaired by intervention of the person, the applicant can be allowed to participate in the proceedings. The hearing officer has the discretionary power to grant a petition for intervention at any stage of the proceeding. However, the hearing officer can set certain conditions before allowing the application. In certain cases, an intervenor can be specifically allowed to participate only in issues in which the intervenor has interest. Sometimes, an intervenor can be specifically allowed to use the process of discovery, cross-examination, and other procedures for proper conduct of adjudication proceedings. Mostly, when there are two or more intervenors, they can be required to combine their presentation of evidence for speedy adjudication of the issue.
Administrative cases can also be filed as class actions. Class actions are filed by persons having similar interests in the same proceedings, or when a common issue of law or fact at stake. However, administrative agencies are not bound by the class action principles provided in federal or state civil procedure code.[vi] An agency can create its own rules concerning joinder of parties in a suit and class actions. However, when an administrative class action is filed, a notice should be provided to the respondent about the action.[vii] In certain cases where individual relief is sought by a party in a class action, the evidence should include that of individual damage caused.[viii]
[i] 5 USCS § 551
[iii] Nizzardo v. State Traffic Comm’n, 259 Conn. 131 (Conn. 2002)
[iv] Envirocare, Inc. v. NRC, 194 F.3d 72 (D.C. Cir. 1999)
[v] Kes Brockton, Inc. v. Dep’t of Pub. Utils., 416 Mass. 158 (Mass. 1993)
[vi] Arizona Civil Rights Div., Dep’t of Law v. Hughes Air Corp., 139 Ariz. 309 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1983)
[vii] In re Global Crossing Ltd. Sec. Litig., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5459 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2008)
[viii] KLUGE v. CREWS LAKE RD. & BRIDGE DIST., 1985 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22530 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 15, 1985)