State agencies have the authority to issue decisions and orders in cases pending before them. After an Administrative Law Judge renders his or her final decision, the parties to the matter may file an appeal. Most agencies maintain specific procedures for appealing a decision, and the appeal is usually handled within that agency. As a result, it is important to research which appellate procedures apply to your case before proceeding with your appeal.

Following a final decision in an administrative hearing, the parties receive a written copy of the Administrative Law Judge’s decision with a document providing information on how the parties may file their appeal. In most cases, a party seeking an appeal must prepare and file certain documents with the agency’s appellate division.

If you are unsatisfied with the outcome of your appeal at the agency level, you have the option of appealing the decision to the superior court for the state in which you are located. Most state and federal courts will require that you pursue any appellate remedies made available to you by the state agency before seeking review of the agency’s decision. This doctrine is commonly referred to as the exhaustion of remedies. The exhaustion of remedies doctrine is designed to promote efficiency within the judicial system. Agency personnel and Administrative Law Judges have specialized experience and familiarity with the matters that arise within their jurisdiction, so they are best suited to interpret and apply the rules that they administer. Traditional judicial courts, on the other hand, must engage in substantive research and review of the administrative record and issues in question before they can provide a ruling on the issue.

Administrative Appeal Procedures

Once you have exhausted all of your agency-level appellate remedies, a state or federal court can consider your appeal. A necessary component of successfully pursuing an appeal of an agency decision is maintaining a complete and accurate record. Failure to provide a reviewing state or federal court with a complete record may thwart your efforts. State and federal courts apply different standards of review to agency decisions. A standard of review is the level of deference that the reviewing court gives to the agency’s determination. In de novo review, for example, the reviewing court examines the facts and legal issues as if it were hearing the matter for the first time. This is the most meticulous form of review and provides the least deference to the agency.

In general, most agency decisions do not receive de novo review but instead receive special deference. In this instance, the reviewing court evaluates whether the agency’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, and whether it was arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. Substantial evidence is defined as the amount of evidence that a reasonable mind might find adequate to support a conclusion. Typically, the reviewing court may not accept new evidence. However, the APA permits a petitioner who wishes to provide supplemental evidence to do so if he or she can establish that:

  • The new evidence is material to the issues;
  • The new evidence is not cumulative of the evidence contained in the record; and
  • The evidence could not have reasonably been presented at the time of the administrative hearing.

If a party satisfies these requirements, the reviewing judge remands the case to the administrative agency so that the new evidence may be presented and admitted into the record.