The Model State Administrative Procedure Act provides that an aggrieved party may obtain a review of any final judgment of the trial court by appeal to a higher court. The Act further provides that the appeal will be taken as in other civil cases.
An appellate court has jurisdiction to review agency decisions only when the legislature expressly authorizes a right of review[i]. Judicial review of an agency’s decision is not of right but is the legislative intent. The appellate courts have the discretion not to entertain an appeal where the superior court had reviewed decisions of administrative agencies without issuing an opinion in every such case[ii].
Statute confers jurisdiction on U.S. district courts to review any final decision of an agency made after a hearing[iii]. In United States Alkali Export Ass’n v. United States, 325 U.S. 196 (U.S. 1945), the court held that the Supreme Court has power, in aid of its appellate jurisdiction, to review judgments and orders of the district courts by resort to the common law writs of certiorari, mandamus and prohibition. Pursuant to federal jurisdictional statute, a final judgment of the court of appeals in a proceeding to review is subject to review by the Supreme Court on a writ of certiorari[iv].
A claimant’s failure to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing an appeal deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction. Exhaustion of administrative remedies requires a claimant to[v]:
- present a claim and receive an initial determination and, if dissatisfied;
- request reconsideration of the initial determination and, if dissatisfied;
- request a hearing before an administrative law judge and, if dissatisfied with the decision of the administrative law judge;
- request review by the Appeals Council.
An administrative agencies decision is final, and the claimant may seek federal court review, only when the claimant has completed the steps of the administrative review process. In Allen v. Woodford County Bd. of Adjustments, 228 S.W.3d 573 (Ky. Ct. App. 2007), the court held that the review of administrative decisions must strictly follow the applicable statutory procedures. The court further held that because an appeal from an administrative decision is a matter of legislative grace and not a right, the failure to follow the statutory guidelines for an appeal is fatal.
In Benton v. Dismuke, 230 S.W.3d 10 (Mo. Ct. App. 2007), the court held that on appeal from the circuit court of a noncontested administrative decision, appellate courts review the judgment of the circuit court and not the decision of the administrative agency. However in Estate of Szleszinski v. Labor & Indus. Review Comm’n, 2007 WI 106 (Wis. 2007), the court held that when reviewing the decision of an administrative agency, the Supreme Court reviews the agency’s decision and not the decision of the court of appeals or the circuit court. The court’s review is limited to:
- whether the agency kept within its jurisdiction,
- whether it acted according to law,
- whether it acted arbitrarily, oppressively, or unreasonably, and
- whether the evidence was sufficient that the agency might reasonably make the order or determination in question.
In any proceedings for judicial review by any court of decisions of any agency, a court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may also reverse or modify the decision if the substantial rights of the parties may have been prejudiced because the administrative finding, inferences, conclusion, or decisions are[vi]:
- in violation of constitutional provisions; or
- in excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the agency; or
- made upon unlawful procedure; or
- affected by other error of law; or
- unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted; or
- arbitrary or capricious.
An agency which functions in a quasi-judicial capacity has no right to appeal[vii]. However, an agency is granted a right of appeal as to questions of law relating to the constitutionality, construction, or interpretation of statutes and rules of the agency[viii].
The appellate court may decline to pass upon a question which was not raised or considered in the court of first instance. A procedural error which was available but not raised in a prior review proceeding is deemed abandoned and cannot be raised in a subsequent review proceedings[ix].
The jurisdiction of courts are limited to cases in which the judicial power is to be exercised and does not extend to an issue of invoking the advice of the Supreme Court to administrative issues[x]. An appellate court will independently review the merits of an administrative determination. No deference is given to the superior court’s decision when that court acts as an intermediate court of appeal[xi].
In Handley v. State, Dep’t of Revenue, 838 P.2d 1231 (Alaska 1992), the court observed that four principal standards of review of administrative decisions recognized by the appellate courts are:
- The substantial evidence test – used for questions of fact.
- The reasonable basis test – used for questions of law involving agency expertise.
- The substitution of judgment test – used for questions of law where no expertise is involved.
- The reasonable and not arbitrary test – used for review of administrative regulations.
[i] Debry v. Salt Lake County Bd. of Appeals, 764 P.2d 627, 628 (Utah Ct. App. 1988)
[ii] Citizens & Southern Nat’l Bank v. Rayle, 246 Ga. 727 (Ga. 1980)
[iii] Chamberlain v. Barnhart, 382 F. Supp. 2d 867 (E.D. Tex. 2005)
[iv] 28 USCS § 2350
[v] Chamberlain v. Barnhart, 382 F. Supp. 2d 867 (E.D. Tex. 2005)
[vi] In re Getsug, 290 Minn. 110 (Minn. 1971)
[viii] In re Application of Blue Cross, 60 Ohio App. 2d 245 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County 1978)
[ix] Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Bd., 367 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1961)
[x] Postum Cereal Co. v. California Fig Nut Co., 272 U.S. 693 (U.S. 1927)
[xi] Handley v. State, Dep’t of Revenue, 838 P.2d 1231 (Alaska 1992)