Enforcement of Administrative Orders or Subpoenas

An administrative subpoena is defined as an official order that compels a person to provide a state or local administrative agency with information.  An administrative subpoena is generally enforced through the courts.  At the same time, it is constitutional for an agency to impose procedural sanctions if empowered to do so by the statute.

During the proceeding for enforcement of an administrative subpoena, the court will issue an order requiring the appearance of the witness or the production of the evidence or data within a reasonable time[i].

The court must clarify that the information requested by a party is not unreasonable and oppressive before enforcing a subpoena and the court must prevent any abuse of its process.  A court can refuse to enforce a subpoena because of fraud committed by the government.  Similarly, if the government issues a subpoena to harass or to coerce a party concerning a collateral matter, then the court will not enforce the subpoena[ii].

Under the Federal Administrative Procedure Act, a court is required to sustain a subpoena to the extent that it is found to be in accordance with the law[iii].  According to the Model State Administrative Procedure Act, an agency can obtain enforcement of its order by filing a petition for civil enforcement in the trial court of general jurisdiction[iv].

[i] 5 USCS § 555

[ii] Resolution Trust Corp. v. Frates, 61 F.3d 962 (D.C. Cir. 1995)

[iii] 5 USCS § 555

[iv] Model State Administrative Procedure Act (1981) § 5-201(a).


Inside Enforcement of Administrative Orders or Subpoenas