Agency boards and hearing officers are the adjudicators of administrative hearings. Administrative hearings take part outside of the judicial system, so the agency has adjudicative function and is given a good deal of authority and discretion to set procedures and make decisions. This power, however, is not unlimited and there is still a system of checks and balances on the agencies that control administrative hearings. The trial courts have appellate function over agency adjudication. The trial courts, according to C.G.S. §4-183(j), “must restrict its review to determining if administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are… in violation of constitutional provisions.”
The trial court can only review an agency’s decision and determine if there was an error made, but the trial court cannot extend to making determinations about the agency’s procedure or regulations. Because agencies use their own regulations and follow the UAPA, the trial court, in reviewing the agency’s determination, will consult those bodies of law and procedure, rather than the General Statutes that govern procedures in the trial court.
The number one goal of the trial court, in its appellate function, is to determine whether the agency considered the evidence in a reasonable way and did not act arbitrarily, illegally, or in a way that abused its power of authority and discretion. If the licensee and their attorney do not believe that the agency acted in one of these ways, the appeal will likely not result in a favorable outcome for the licensee.
Additional restrictions on the reviewing court include the ability to only review information that is on the record. Information on the record only includes the information, evidence, testimony, and statements given at the hearing, in front of the board, and preserved for the purpose of appellate review. This is a good reason for the licensee to build as strong of a defense as possible when going into the hearing, because they must have an appeal in the back of their head and keep this in mind.
The trial court gives great defense to the agency that made a final determination in the administrative proceeding. The reviewing court is under the assumption that the determination made was valid, and it is the burden of the licensee who is appealing to overcome that presumption. When the issue at hand is an issue involving an area of law, however, the reviewing court may give less deference to the agency’s interpretation to that law.
It is important to remember that at the administrative hearing level, preparation takes a close analysis of what information and testimony is needed to build a record. This stage is so important for preparing for a possible appeal in the future, being that the reviewing court will only review what is on the record. Because of this, it is critical to be advised by someone that can analyze the level of details in statutes, agency regulations, the UAPA, and knows how to properly build the record. If you are preparing for a hearing or appeal or are at any stage in the administrative hearing process, call our office to see if we can assist you.