Administrative law governs the activities of governmental agencies. This includes federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Administrative law essentially governs the agencies and departments that are responsible for executing laws that have been passed by Congress, or a state’s legislature.

Additionally, administrative law applies to state and local governmental agencies. Some examples of this would be your local liquor control board, or motor vehicle administrations, who are responsible for the issuing of licenses and permits.

Activities of government agencies that are governed by administrative law can include:

  • Making rules known as policy;
  • Adjudication taking the form of administrative hearings; and
  • Enforcement of regulations associated with the agency’s particular area of administration.

Generally speaking, administrative laws and agencies can be categorized into one of three areas: education and schools, government agencies and programs, and social security. Overall, administrative laws are in place to control government power as an effort to protect individual rights, and that the government is held accountable for the decisions that they make. They are also intended to ensure that required tasks are performed efficiently.

How Does Administrative Law Compare to Other Legal Areas?

The American court system is categorized by criminal and civil justice systems. Under the criminal system, it is the government bringing a case against a defendant, whereas in civil court, citizens can bring lawsuits against other citizens. Both are similar in that a judge presides over a case between two sides, whether those sides are a plaintiff or the government, versus a defendant.

The laws, punishments, and the burdens of proof associated with each category differ between both court systems. An example of this would be how a prison sentence is a possible punishment in certain criminal cases, while civil cases do not punish the accused with incarceration. However, there are some cases in which a civil lawsuit may follow a criminal case, such as a wrongful death case or police misconduct case.

Under these two justice systems, the primary focus is generally whether the defendant is guilty or liable in some way for the complaint made by the plaintiff or government. This process can involve a wide variety of legal areas, such as:

  • Crime;
  • Personal liability;
  • Injunctions; and
  • Violations of contract.

Under administrative law, each agency must maintain a board, commission, or some other sort of tribunal. This tribunal is largely responsible for arbitrating matters related to the regulation of that agency, which is accomplished in an administrative court. Administrative court is usually made up of experts in that particular field. As such, they exclusively hear matters within that field through applying the agency’s rules and policies.

Federal civil and criminal courts adhere to the federal rules as outlined in U.S. and state constitutions. However, Congress enacted the Administrative Procedure Act in order to establish procedures that are in compliance with due process.

Are There Any Examples of Administrative Law Cases?

There are three common areas of administrative law that most people will come into contact with. If you are ordered to appear in an administrative court, it is important to remember that they follow a different set of procedures and rules than that of civil and criminal courts.

Regulatory cases generally involve challenging a rule or policy that has been created by that specific agency. Business owners, as well as interested members of the public, may have a conflict with a specific regulation created by a governmental agency. When such disputes arise, an interested or affected party can file a complaint with the agency and appeal the regulation in question. An example of this would be if the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) created a new rule that unduly conflicts with your business.

Entitlement cases involve public benefits. As previously mentioned, public benefits such as disability benefits or worker’s compensation are governed by administrative law. If your public benefits have been wrongfully denied, you can make an appeal to the appropriate administrative court. They will review your case in order to determine whether the denial was justified, and what next steps should be taken by either the agency or the complainant.

Enforcement cases are related to regulatory violations. When a person or entity has violated an agency’s regulation, the agency has the legal authority to bring a case against them in an administrative court. A common example of this would be how the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service brings deportation proceedings against those accused of “illegal” or undocumented immigration. A person facing such accusations also faces the serious consequence of deportation if the administrative court rules in favor of the agency.

Can Administrative Decisions Be Appealed in Montana?

Those who disagree with the decisions made in administrative court, and believe that the decisions interfere with their rights, may request an administrative hearing. At this hearing, an administrative law judge will review your case and determine whether the decisions do impact the plaintiff’s rights.

If you are the plaintiff and are unsatisfied with the administrative law judge’s ruling, and feel that you still have been wronged, you would appeal the decision to a court. However, some state statutes forbid appeals, in which case your complaint will then be heard at an appropriate state or federal court. When it comes to appealing administrative decisions in Montana, the appeal process will often be outlined on the decision itself. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you carefully review the decision made in administrative court. 

Before you can attempt to appeal the ruling, you must first exhaust all of the available administrative remedies. What this means is that if there is any other way the agency can solve your issue, you must try that way first. However, there is an exception to this exhaustion requirement. If the exhaustion requirement is:

  • waived by the agency;
  • excused by the court; or
  • if your case involves a Constitutional issue, you will not be required to exhaust all of the alternative remedies before you may appeal the ruling.

When you are able to begin to appeal the ruling, you will start by filing a petition for review in the appropriate court. Generally speaking, the court will assume that the government agency’s decision was correct. This means that the burden of proof is on you to prove that the agency’s decision is invalid due to the fact that it is unreasonable, unlawful, arbitrary, unsupported, or wrong.

The court will use evidence from the administrative record when determining if the administrative agency was acting within its authority, as well as complying with statutes and not acting arbitrarily. It is important to note that new evidence and witnesses are usually not allowed in administrative court.

If you are able to prove that the agency acted unlawfully, or in violation, the reviewing court may take one of the following actions regarding the agency’s actions:

  • Reverse;
  • Modify;
  • Vacate; or
  • Remand.

The administrative court may also issue a mandate which requires the agency to either issue a certificate, comply with a statute or regulation, or conduct proceedings. Additionally, further judicial review is discretionary. What this means is that an appeals court may choose not to hear an appeal when a lower court has already reviewed an administrative agency’s decision.

How Can a Montana Administrative Law Attorney Assist Me?

Administrative law attorneys are invaluable in terms of understanding how the administrative law and appeals process work. If you are facing any issues related to administrative law, and are located in Montana, you should consult with an experienced Montana administrative law attorney

As each state has its own laws regarding administrative court and appeals, it is important that you work with someone who understands your state’s specific laws and how those laws will affect your legal options. An experienced and local administrative law attorney will be able to represent you in court, while protecting your legal rights.