To conduct investigations, an administrative agency must have authority to do so. Administrative agencies derive their authority from statutes. The Federal Administrative Procedure Act provides that the investigatory process may be issued and enforced as per the procedures laid down by the relevant statute. Investigative process means and includes collection of evidence by examination of witness and production of documents.
When an investigation is conducted against a federal agency, procedures laid down by the relevant regulatory statute should be followed. It is the particular regulatory statute that determines whether a particular method of investigation is authorized by law or not.
When Congress empowers an administrative agency with enforcement and investigatory authority, Congress is not required to specify the techniques to be employed by the administrative agency in the process of its investigation.
In Chirgotis v. Mobil Oil Corp., 128 A.D.2d 400 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 1987), an employee filed two complaints before the New York State Division of Human Rights (“DHR”) alleging that she was denied promotion on grounds of sex and age. The New York State DHR dismissed her complaint finding “no probable cause”. At the trial court, the order of New York State DHR was annulled as capricious and the entire matter was remitted to the New York DHR for a fresh decision. The trial court found that the agency did not collect evidence from witnesses; instead only relied on the documents produced. On appeal by the employer, the New York Supreme Court found that DHR granted ample opportunity to the employee to present her claims. It was also found that DHR conducted sufficient investigation and the employee was given full opportunity to present her claims.
The Supreme Court observed that DHR had the discretion to decide the method or methods to be employed in investigating an issue. Further the record disclosed that the employee’s contentions were thoroughly considered. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the determination of the New York DHR was not arbitrary or capricious.
When legislation does not prescribe methods and procedures of investigation, a state level agency can have its own method and procedure. The agency can, even adopt a regulation of its own. In such cases, court determines if the regulation is:[i]
- Within the scope of the authority conferred; and
- Reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the statute.
[i] Yamaha Corp. of America v. State Bd. of Equalization, 19 Cal. 4th 1 (Cal. 1998)