Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of governmental agencies including federal ones like the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Administrative law also applies to state and local governmental agencies such as your local liquor control board or motor vehicle administrations who are responsible for issuing licenses and permits.
Activities of government agencies can include making rules known as policy, adjudication in the form of administrative hearings and enforcement of regulations involving the agency’s particular area of administration.
Most people are familiar with our civil and criminal legal systems in which a judge presides over a case between two sides: a plaintiff or the government versus a defendant.
In those systems, the question frequently turns on whether the defendant is guilty or liable in some way for the complaint made by the plaintiff or government and can involve a vast array of legal areas such as crime, personal liability, injunctions, violations of contract, etc.
In administrative law, agencies have a board, commission or some other tribunal that adjudicates matters related to the regulatory scheme of that agency in what is called an administrative court. The court is usually composed of experts in that particular field and they only adjudicate matters within that field by applying the agency’s rules and policies.
While federal civil and criminal courts follow the federal rules in compliance with the U.S. and state constitutions, Congress enacted the Administrative Procedure Act to establish procedures that are in compliance with due process.
Many of us come into contact with the adjudication of administrative law in three common areas. If you must appear in an administrative court, remember that they follow a different set of procedures and rules than the civil and criminal courts.
- Regulatory cases: This area involves challenging a rule or policy created by the agency. Business owners as well as interested members of the public may have a conflict with a regulation created by a governmental agency. When that occurs, an interested in person can file a complaint with the agency and appeal the regulation. An example is the Environmental Protection Agency created a new rule that conflicts with your business.
- Entitlement cases: Public benefits such as disability benefits or worker’s compensation are governed by administrative law. If your benefits have been denied, you can make an appeal to the appropriate administrative court who can review your case to determine whether the denial was justified.
- Enforcement cases: When an individual or entity has violated an agency’s regulation, the agency can bring a case against them in an administrative court. A common example of this is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service who brings deportation proceedings against persons accused of illegal immigration. A person accused of illegal immigration faces the serious consequence of deportation if the administrative court finds in favor of the agency.
Many agencies have an appeal process within the agency. In some rare cases, an appeal can be made to the U.S. Court of Appeals depending on the nature of the case.
Administrative law attorneys who are familiar with the rules and practices of the particular administrative court can help you understand the rules, prepare your case, and represent you at an administrative court proceeding.
In cases such as a denial of social security benefits, a government lawyer may be able to represent you for free in an appeal because attorney’s fees may be paid by the government if successful on appeal.