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Right to a Formal Hearing

A formal hearing is a complete hearing which includes presentation of testimony, evidence, and arguments.  Generally, adjudicatory decision making is done without a formal trial-type hearing.  However, a formal hearing is mandatory when there is material issue of facts that is disputed by the parties.[i] In other words, the right to a full trial-type hearing in administrative proceedings is generally limited to the situation where adjudicatory facts are in issue.[ii] Adjudicatory facts are facts pertaining to a particular party.[iii] Adjudicative facts answer the questions of who did what, where, when, how, why, and with what motive or intent.[iv]

In Office of Consumer Advocate v. Iowa State Commerce Com., 465 N.W.2d 280 (Iowa 1991), the court held that entitlement to an evidentiary hearing in the administrative realm ordinarily turns on the question of whether the issues at stake deal with adjudicative or legislative facts.  Further, the court observed that absence of relevant disputed facts is one of the recognized exceptions to the constitutional hearing requirement.  Thus an administrative agency need not provide an evidentiary hearing when there are no disputed material issues of fact.[v]

Courts base their review of an agency’s actions on the materials that were before the agency at the time its decision was made.[vi] Under the provisions of Federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA), judicial review is carried out based on an agency record compiled in the course of informal agency action in which a hearing has not occurred.[vii] Hence it is not necessary to hold a formal hearing in compiling an administrative record.[viii] If an agency decides not to conduct an adjudicative proceeding, the agency should furnish the applicant with a copy of its decision in writing, including a brief statement of the agency’s reasons and of any administrative review available to the applicant.

An agency is not required to conduct an evidentiary hearing if it serves absolutely no purpose, even if a statute provide for a hearing.[ix].  The agency, however, carries a heavy burden of justification.  In Independent Bankers Asso. v. Board of Governors of Federal Reserve System, 516 F.2d 1206 (D.C. Cir. 1975), the court held that denial of a statutorily mandated hearing is justified only in exceptional circumstances.

[i] Allegre v. Iowa State Bd. of Regents, 349 N.W.2d 112 (Iowa 1984)

[ii] In re Final Agency Decision of Bd. of Examiners of Elec. Contractors as To Conduit Installation By J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc., 356 N.J. Super. 42 (App.Div. 2002)

[iii] id

[iv] id

[v] Pennsylvania v. Riley, 84 F.3d 125, 130 (3d Cir. 1996)

[vi] Walter O. Boswell Memorial Hospital v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)

[vii] Puerto Rico Higher Educ. Assistance Corp. v. Riley, 10 F.3d 847 (D.C. Cir. 1993)

[viii] 5 USCS § 551

[ix] Independent Bankers Asso. v. Board of Governors of Federal Reserve System, 516 F.2d 1206 (D.C. Cir. 1975)

Inside Right to a Formal Hearing