Administrative hearings, agencies, and procedures used are not subject to the normal law that governs criminal and civil legal issues. Although administrative law is located in the General Statutes, like other state law, it is treated much differently. The statutes that apply to administrative procedures is the Connecticut Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (UAPA). The UAPA is located in Chapter 54 of the Connecticut General Statutes.
UAPA and Individual Agencies
Even though the UAPA exists to guide agency procedure, agencies also have the authority to codify statutes and regulations for their own specific agency. The reasoning behind this authority is because agency action is given great discretion because of their expertise in the particular agency and field. The agency knows more about the inner workings of its own agency, rather than the state legislature that creates the General Statutes. The UAPA acts more as a general uniform procedure that applies across all agencies and the agencies can add more specific law to its own procedures.
The UAPA, on its own, has many gaps and generally focuses more on the judicial review and agency decision. Each agency is only required to meet the minimum requirements in the UAPA and comply with the general restrictions on time and creating a record from the hearing.
Other than the minimum requirements set forth for all agencies, there really is not a uniform procedure for all agencies to follow and each agency can have practices that look completely different from another. This lack of uniformity can create confusion, ambiguity, and uncertainty.
In the judicial system, the statutes that lay out procedures are the same across all the jurisdictions in the state. This causes the judicial process to be much more predictable for defendants than the administrative process for licensees.
Uncertainty in the UAPA
One of the biggest reasons for uncertainty in the administrative process is the fact that the UAPA does not require agencies to follow prior agency decisions. In the judicial system, courts follow precedent and look to past cases for answers, rather than creating a whole new common law each and every case. Agencies do not need to do this. Although they will look to past decisions as guidance, there is no obligation. Agencies are not even required to publish decisions. Only recently have agencies started to publish decisions and compile them in an electronic format so that administrative agencies can access them.
The UAPA also has a very high standard for showing bias among the decision makers. Even if the agency or the board or one of the board members has a long standing relationship with the licensee that will be in front of them, there is no bias. The agency may already know of the licensee and their weaknesses or past issues with the agency. The UAPA does not require a voir dire process, which means there may be absolutely no information provided about the decision makers, unlike jurors in the justice system.
Unlike the statutes that govern the justice process, the UAPA is pretty straightforward, even though it still requires interpretation and is changed often. If the UAPA is lacking information on a particular issue, the Practice Book of the Superior Court can be turned to, even though it is not in control of the agencies. The bottom line is that the UAPA can cause ambiguity and confusion, and is often supplemented by the agencies’ own procedures. The UAPA can appear simple, but also requires interpretation and turning to other sources. The UAPA also lacks any rules of evidence that exist in judicial law.
If you are caught up in agency action against you and the process is overwhelming, it may be critical to speak with an attorney that practices in this area and knows which statutes and law to turn to. If you are in this situation, give our office a call to speak with someone who can help you.