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Decisions on Review: Affirm, Reverse, Remand, Vacate or Modify

A reviewing court may reverse, modify or vacate the action, or remand final agency action to the agency for further proceedings.  Under the 1981 Model State Administrative Procedure Act, in granting relief, the court may, inter alia, set aside or modify agency action, or remand the matter for further proceedings.  Under the Hobbs Act, a court of appeals reviewing an agency order has the authority to make and enter, on the petition, evidence, and proceedings set forth in the record on review, a judgment determining the validity of, and enjoining, setting aside, or suspending, in whole or in part, the agency’s order.

The reviewing court will affirm an agency’s findings of fact if the agency’s findings are supported by substantial evidence.  An appellate court will review an administrative agency’s decision under the same statutory standards as the circuit court.  Therefore, the appellate court will reevaluate the decision of the agency, not the decision of the lower court.  Moreover, judicial review of administrative agency action is narrow.  The appellate court, however, may always determine whether the administrative agency made an error of law.  Therefore, ordinarily the court reviewing a final decision of an administrative agency shall determine (1) the legality of the decision and (2) whether there was substantial evidence from the record as a whole to support the decision.  Substantial evidence is defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.[i]

A court will not reverse an agency’s decision unless it is convinced that fair-minded persons with the same facts before them could not have arrived at the agency’s conclusion.   On appeal, a court is obliged to affirm an agency’s adjudication unless the court finds that it violates constitutional rights, is contrary to law, or is based on findings of fact which are not supported by reliable, probative, and substantial evidence.  The court will affirm an administrative agency’s decision if the decision is correct for any reason appearing in the record, even if the grounds stated in its support are erroneous.  A court may not, however, affirm an administrative agency action on a basis containing any element of discretion, including discretion to find facts and interpret statutory ambiguities.   Therefore, even if an agency gives a reviewable reason for an otherwise unreviewable action, the action does not become reviewable.

Generally, the reviewing court may reverse or modify an agency’s decision only in limited circumstances.  The court may reverse, vacate, or modify an order or decision of an agency if substantial rights of the petitioner or petitioners have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, decisions or order are:

  • in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;
  • in excess of statutory authority or the jurisdiction of the agency;
  • made upon unlawful procedures;
  • affected by another error of law;
  • clearly wrong in view of reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or
  • arbitrary or capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion or a clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.[ii]

Further, if the appellant is not afforded a fair hearing, the reviewing court can reverse the agency decision.  Likewise, if the court cannot find any support for an administrative agency’s decision, the court can reverse the decision.

[i] Pollock v. Patuxent Inst. Bd. of Review, 374 Md. 463 (Md. 2003)

[ii] Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings v. Schumacher, 2007 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 111 (Mont. Dist. Ct. 2007)

Inside Decisions on Review: Affirm, Reverse, Remand, Vacate or Modify