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Necessity of Court Proceedings for Enforcement

An administrative agency can obtain relevant information through subpoena.  An administrative subpoena is an official order compelling an individual to provide a state or local administrative agency with information.  Although many agencies have the power to issue subpoenas, they usually have no power to enforce them.

A subpoena is 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.  For example, in Minnesota, statutes provide for enforcing subpoenas through district court.

It’s important to note that agencies are not authorized to impose sanctions.  Most regulatory statutes confer appropriate jurisdiction and provide for an application by the administrative agency to a specified court for an order enforcing the administrative order or subpoena.

However, the discretion of the court is limited in enforcing such subpoenas.  The main inquiry is whether the enforcement of the administrative subpoena will constitute an abuse of the court’s process.

Under 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[i].

Generally, a court action for enforcement of a subpoena must be brought by the agency, except when a statute authorizes a private party to bring an action to enforce the subpoena.  However, in the absence of such a statute, an interested private party seeking to enforce a subpoena must petition the agency to act.

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

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