Litigation litigation in the Administrative Law Court is unique in many ways compared to other litigation venues in South Carolina. The Administrative Law Court (ALC) falls under the executive branch of state government, as opposed to the judicial branch. Despite this distinction, administrative law judges (ALJs) are elected by the General Assembly, as are judges and judges of circuit courts, family courts and courts of appeal. This means ALC judges go through the same rigorous screening and selection process as men and women serving in South Carolina’s highest courts.
There are many advantages to bringing cases before the CLA. For starters, and unlike state circuit and family courts, each case is assigned to a specific judge after filing, who then presides over the case from start to finish. This continuity in the identity of the decision-maker is important, eliminating the uncertainty often experienced by litigants in the state judicial process, where a single case might have a number of presiding judges to hear and decide on motions, pre-hearing questions and the trial itself.
The experience that ALJs and their staff have for the specific matters that are heard by the court, which is the result of the exclusive jurisdiction established by the General Assembly in the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). South Carolina has dozens of administrative agencies created by the General Assembly, agencies with delegated powers to oversee and administer hundreds of important state programs and policies. Through the APA and in order to ensure due process for those subject to an agency action, a person aggrieved or dissatisfied with the decisions of an administrative agency will be granted some measure of review in the ALC.
On this consideration, there is an important distinction depending on the nature of the case brought before the Court. Again, relatively unique to administrative law, the nature and extent of review before the LAC depends on the state agency involved. There are actually two separate processes in the ALC – one for the de novo review of the agency’s actions (meaning the case is re-examined with independent factual findings and legal conclusions made by the agency). ALJ), and one for agency internal review appeals. .
Administrative challenges with de novo review typically involve discovery, developing an evidentiary record, and a hearing on the merits with presenting witnesses and presenting documentary evidence to the ALJ. The presiding judge makes his own findings of fact and law, without being bound by the findings or conclusions of the state agency. It is the review process that applies to matters involving the Ministry of Health and Environmental Control, the Ministry of Revenue and the Ministry of Natural Resources, for example.
The other review process, which involves a “closed” case and a standard of review equivalent to that offered by the Court of Appeal, applies to cases involving agencies that have an internal hearing forum, such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Within the HHS there is an Appeals and Hearings division which provides for a hearing process and is the forum in which the evidentiary record is developed. If a person is aggrieved or unhappy with the outcome of the division’s decision, the LAC hears the case by reviewing the case created within the agency and examines the legal arguments presented by litigants, assessing whether the the agency’s decision is supported by substantial evidence. Other agencies that fall under this appeal framework are the Department of Employment and Manpower (DEW), the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and the Department of Social Services (DSS) . At DEW, an appeals committee within the agency reviews eligibility determinations made by the agency which are then appealed to the ALC. Within the DSS, hearings on eligibility determinations take place before a fair hearing panel and include an evidentiary hearing leading to a final administrative order which can be appealed to the ALC.
Whatever the nature of the grievance, Nexsen Pruet lawyers are ready to assist you in your administrative challenge at the level of the agency, the ALC or the courts of appeal.