It is easy to overlook the concept of “the burden of proof” in administrative hearings because it is not a typical way to think about determinations of a dispute in everyday situations. In normal life, there may be a fight between friends, and each friend tries to explain their position and their reasoning, and maybe a third party will agree with one side based on what is said. In the court system and in administrative hearings, the board or hearing officer does not just listen to both sides and choose which story to believe, there has to be a certain standard met before the accuser’s side is taken. In other words, the board must determine that the burden of proof has been met by the agency taking action against the licensee, before the licensee receives an unfavorable ruling.
The Burden of Proof
Generally, the burden of proof in administrative hearings is preponderance of the evidence. This standard is different from the beyond a reasonable doubt standard in criminal trials. For evidence to meet this burden, it must be probative and reliable. It is the job of the licensee, with their lawyer, to put substantial, reliable and probative evidence on the record. The hearing board, as part of the determination, makes determinations of fact and law and therefore, substantial evidence is present when the record represents enough facts for the board to make a determination on an issue in dispute. It is important to remember that when there is conflicting evidence or conflicting witness statements, the board can still make a determination of fact.
Finding of Fact
Not only does the board determine issues of fact, but the reviewing court examines all the evidence on the record and determines if there is substantial evidence to support the findings of fact. Reviewing courts do not take this job lightly, but it does give the agency a high level of credibility and deference. Agencies are given the benefit of the doubt when determining findings of fact. When the board hears evidence in an administrative hearing, the board is expected to act as an unbiased adjudicator, similar to the function of a jury and a judge. The board or officer is supposed to hear each side and look at evidence from both sides with an open mind.
Preponderance of Evidence
The preponderance of the evidence standard is put in place for the trier of fact in the administrative hearing, but is even more important to be in place for the reviewing court. Because the reviewing courts give agencies such a high level of deference, the burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases. There is a limited amount of power that the reviewing court has over the decisions of the agency.
Preponderance of evidence is met when there is a finding that at least 51% of the evidence presented shows that the licensee did what they were accused of doing. In other words, the board asks whether the evidence shows that the accusations are more likely true than not. At the end of the day, this is the burden of the agency to prove against the licensee. The licensee has no burden of proof to meet. If the plaintiff cannot meet this burden, the licensee will win the hearing.
If you have questions on the burden of proof in administrative hearings or you are going through an administrative action, call our office to speak with an attorney. A lawyer can answer your questions and assist you with this process