Main Ways to Obtain Information

Administrative agencies adjudicate minor or complex disputes more quickly or more flexibly than courts.  Adjudication by administrative agencies helps to preserve judicial resources and promote swift resolutions.  As part of an agencies adjudicative function it can obtain relevant information by way of subpoena, inspection or by compeling the filing of reports.

An administrative investigation consists of an effort to obtain or develop information in order to identify facts, or to determine an appropriate course of action within requirements established by laws, and regulations.  The basic purpose of an investigation is to gather data, evidence, facts, and statement to assist in determining whether an incident occurred or did not occur as alleged.

Three main ways to obtain information in an administrative investigation are:

  1. Subpoena
  2. An administrative subpoena is an official order compelling an individual to provide an administrative agency required information.  Statutes provide administrative agency power to issue subpoena.  Usually agencies have no power to enforce subpoenas.  Courts alone can enforce subpoenas.  However in a court, action for enforcement of a subpoena issued by an administrative agency must be brought by the agency.  Some states granting subpoena power to administrations indicate that penalty for disobeying a subpoena is a misdemeanor, and some states provide that disobeying a subpoena is punishable as contempt of district court.  If a statute granting subpoena power does not specify a penalty for violation, general rule is that it is contempt of court to violate a lawful subpoena.

    When an administrative agency subpoenas corporate books or records, fourth amendment of the constitution requires that the subpoena be of limited scope, relevant in purpose, and specific in directive.  Compliance of subpoena should not be unreasonably burdensome to whom it is issued[1].

  3. Compel Filing of Reports
  4. Administrative agency can compel parties to file reports.  Complainants file petitions to compel opposite party to file reports on issues connected with the dispute.

    When a party does not produce some documents as it is privileged, or fails to comply with an order of administrative agency to produce certain reports, the administrative agency can compel the party to produce the reports before the agency.

    Administrative agencies can make an order compelling production of reports only if request to compel filing reports is not with intention to delay proceedings, nor to provide unreasonable burden on opposite party.  Administrative agencies can compel report filing when information sought can be reasonably obtained only from opposite party, and the opposite party has refused to provide the information voluntarily.  However, the information sought should have probative value in the matter of dispute.

  5. Inspection
  6. An administrative inspection is inspection of business premises conducted by authorities for obtaining information.  Administrative inspection is initiated and conducted by federal agency officials.  A party can submit request to authorities to inspect for discovery of information related to the dispute.  Administrative agencies conduct inspection if it is satisfied that the information required can only be obtained through inspection by the authorities.  Every administrative agency whose work can be a subject of administrative inspection is supposed to support the authorities who conduct administrative inspection.  Administrative agencies are to provide all necessary documents important for conducting the inspection.

    Fourth amendment to the U.S. constitution guards individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Amendment specifically requires search to be sanctioned by judiciary and supported by reasonable cause.  The fourth amendment’s restrictions on unreasonable searches and seizures are not limited to criminal investigations but also apply to administrative inspections[2].  However, legislative schemes authorizing warrantless administrative searches of commercial property do not violate the fourth amendment.

[1] Donovan v. Lone Steer, 464 U.S. 408 (U.S. 1984)

[2] Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S. 594 (U.S. 1981)


Inside Main Ways to Obtain Information