We all deal with administrative agencies on a regular basis, whether it be through renewal of our cars’ yearly registrations, paying taxes, or through receiving and maintaining licensures to engage in certain professions such as medicine or teaching. Conflicts can arise between persons and agencies for a number of reasons, and the correct manner in which to resolve these conflicts can be confusing.
It’s important to know that when you want to challenge an agency’s decision that affects you, you will be required to adhere to a prescribed timeline and dispute process that, if not followed, can ruin your chances for making your case. Similarly, if you are an employer, whether or not an employee adheres to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements can make the difference as to whether that employee can pursue a discrimination claim against you.
Administrative procedures frequently involve such elements as “contested cases,” “formal charges,” complaints, hearing officers, the agency’s executive director, and hearings before administrative law judges with the State Office of Administrative Hearings. An attorney can explain these terms to you and the role they play in the administrative process and help you identify each step required during a dispute so that either you don’t lose your suit before ever stepping inside a courthouse, or so you can create a sound defense based on a plaintiff’s failure to exhaust their administrative remedies.
Exhaust the required state administrative remedies before heading to state court.
Statutes governing administrative disputes will tell you the deadlines and procedures you need to follow in challenging an agency’s decision. Correspondence from agencies discussing the dispute will also often provide this information, but it should be confirmed with legal sources such as statutes and agency regulations. If the applicable procedures are not followed, courts will deny your case, whether the actual facts are in your favor or not.
For example, in one Harris County case dealing with a corporation’s overpayment of nearly $10 million in personal property taxes during 2008, the corporation did not realize until years later that it had overpaid the taxing authority, and it tried to correct its payment with a motion in 2011. The appellate court held that the corporation could not correct its 2008 payment because it had neither protested within thirty days after receiving notice of the appraisal (as required by Texas Tax Code § 41.44(a)), nor utilized an option provided under Texas Tax Code section 25.25 to correct statements before the corporation’s taxes became delinquent. If the corporation had filed a protest within thirty days of the appraisal notice, it could have sought judicial review (under Tex. Tax Code 42.01(a)(1)(a)) in a district court if was not satisfied with the agency’s final decision. Bauer-Pileco, Inc. v. Harris County Appraisal Dist., 443 S.W.3d 304, 310, 313 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, no pet.).
Exhaust the required federal administrative remedies before heading to federal court.
Federal courts also expect that administrative remedies be exhausted before they get involved in an administrative dispute because this avoids premature interruption of the administrative process, lets an agency develop a factual background for decisions, gives an agency a chance to exercise its discretion and apply its expertise, and avoids judicial interference with an agency until it has completed its action. Stuhlbarg Intern. Sales Co., Inc. v. John D. Brush and Co., Inc., 240 F.3d 832, 837 (2001).
Bear in mind that a legal claim doesn’t have to be directed towards a federal agency to come under the requirement of administrative exhaustion. One common situation wherein federal procedures must be followed is the employment discrimination context. Federal courts do not even have jurisdiction over Title VII claims (those involving discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or retaliation) unless those grievances are first presented to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), investigated, and concluded with a “Notice-of-Right-to-Sue” letter. Deadlines remain relevant, even after this point, because the related lawsuit must be filed within 90 days after receipt of the letter. A party’s failure to follow these required procedures will result in the opposing party’s easily arguing to the court that a case should be dismissed.
An attorney can help you find possible exceptions to administrative exhaustion requirements.
Generally, a claim likely has no chance of success in court if the required pre-trial administrative procedures were not followed, but there can be legal exceptions to these requirements. However, these exceptions apply only in certain limited circumstances. An attorney familiar with administrative law and the subject matter of your grievance can best discern whether any possible exception applies to your case.