Which states require people to exhaust administrative appeals before challenging agency actions in state court?

A Ballotpedia study of all 50 state constitutions and administrative procedure acts (APAs) revealed that 18 states require people to exhaust administrative remedies offered by an agency before they can challenge that agency’s adjudication actions in state court.

Agency adjudication is a quasi-judicial process that takes place in the executive branch of the state government instead of the judicial branch. Often, the procedural protections associated with adjudication are different from those found in a traditional courtroom setting.

Adjudication proceedings include agency determinations outside of the rulemaking process that aim to resolve disputes between either agencies and private parties or between two private parties. The adjudication process results in the issuance of an adjudicative order, which serves to settle the dispute and, in some cases, may set agency policy.

For this study, Ballotpedia started by looking into whether states limited who could challenge the outcome of agency adjudication actions in court. Most states allowed any aggrieved party to challenge agencies in court. Aggrieved parties are those involved in a case and anyone else adversely affected by an agency’s action in a case. The survey revealed that even though some states limited who could take agencies to court, they differed about what a person had to do before reaching a state court.

18 states limited appeals from agencies to state courts until after the plaintiffs had exhausted all available administrative remedies at the agency. These requirements varied among states and even among agencies within states but involved steps like asking the agency to reconsider a decision or requesting that the head of the agency review an adjudication action.

The Utah and Washington APAs allowed state courts to waive the requirement that parties first exhaust administrative remedies if those remedies are inadequate or if those remedies would result in irreparable harm.

Understanding limits on access to state courts for judicial review of agency actions provides insight into procedural rights at the state level. Procedural rights is one of the five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of the administrative state.

To learn more about Ballotpedia’s survey related to procedural rights, click here.

Want to go further? Learn more about the five pillars of the administrative state here.

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About the author

Jace Lington

Jace Lington is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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