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Right to Judicial Review of State Agency Decisions

There is no inherent right to a judicial appeal from an administrative agency’s decision.  The right of appeal is also not a constitutional or inalienable right.  The enabling statute has to grant the right of appeal[i] and the appeal must conform to the statute granting the right of appeal and regulating the process.

The statutory requirement is mandatory and not directory.  Statutory requirement is a condition precedent to require a review by courts and must be observed.  Its non-compliance will result in the dismissal of the appeal.

The enabling statute defines the scope of a particular agency’s power.  The enabling statute is the primary source from which particular agency gets its power and right of judicial review.  The extent of power and right of judicial review of a particular agency is determined by:

  • The express language of the enabling statute;
  • The structure of the statutory scheme;
  • The objectives of the particular agency;
  • The legislative history of the particular agency; and
  • The nature of the administrative action involved.

It is well settled that appeals from administrative agencies exist only under statutory authority and if the enabling statute do not provide for such appeal, courts cannot hear the appeals for want of jurisdiction. Thus, courts have no inherent appellate jurisdiction over official acts of a particular agency unless the enabling statute has provided for the same.

As statutory authority is a pre-requisite for filing of appeal from administrative agency’s decision, statutory provisions should be strictly complied with.  Statutory provisions are mandatory and should be strictly followed.

If the enabling statute has set a time for filing an appeal from an administrative agency’s decision, failure to file the appeal within the said time makes the appeal invalid and deprives the courts of jurisdiction to hear it.[ii]

Similarly, if the enabling statute has set boundary on the subject matter jurisdiction, the same should be strictly followed.  Subject matter jurisdiction concerns the cause of action and the relief sought.  It exists when the court proceeds to determine the issues involved or grant a relief sought[iii].  Where a statute specifically provides that an appeal must be filed in a certain court, that court alone has jurisdiction to entertain the appeal.  Thus, where a statute gives the aggrieved party the right to file an appeal in the Circuit Court of Cole County, the party should file the appeal only in the Circuit Court of Cole County.  Other circuit courts will not have jurisdiction over the subject matter.

Subject matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by consent or agreement between the parties.  The question of lack of jurisdiction can be raised for the first time at any stage in a proceeding, even before the Supreme Court.[iv]  Similarly, where a statute gives exclusive jurisdiction to review the agency’s decision to a legislatively created panel, a court is without jurisdiction to review such agency decisions.

Courts always come to the aid of public to hear meritorious complaints against illegal acts of non-judicial authorities and agencies.  When a statute does not confer a right of appeal, judicial redress for fraudulent, oppressive or illegal official conduct will have to be invoked through appropriate, and extraordinary legal remedies like injunction, mandamus or quo warranto.

Under a state administrative procedure act, any person who is aggrieved by a final agency decision in a contested case, and who has exhausted all administrative remedies given by a statute is entitled to judicial review of such decisions if the statute provides judicial review.  Thus, a party can seek for judicial review of an adverse administrative determination, when s/he proves that:[v]

  • The person is aggrieved;
  • There is a final agency decision;
  • The decision is in a contested case;
  • There is no other adequate procedure for judicial review; and
  • The person has exhausted administrative remedies.

[i] In re Vandiford, 56 N.C. App. 224 (N.C. Ct. App. 1982)

[ii] Cassella v. Department of Liquor Control, 30 Conn. App. 738 (Conn. App. Ct. 1993)

[iii] State Tax Com. v. Administrative Hearing Com., 641 S.W.2d 69, 72 (Mo. 1982)

[iv] State v. Rogers, 351 Mo. 321 (Mo. 1943)

[v] State of Tennessee on behalf of Tennessee Dep’t of Health & Environment v. Environmental Management Com., 78 N.C. App. 763, 766 (N.C. Ct. App. 1986)

Inside Right to Judicial Review of State Agency Decisions