Brief Explanation of the Contested Case Process
Provided for your information is a very brief summary of the agency adjudication process. This process is complex in nature and requires more explanation than is practical to cover here.
The contested case process found in Iowa Administrative Procedures Act (IAPA) §§17A.10 through 17A.18 follows many of the same procedural protections which are provided for in judicial proceedings.
Iowa statutes frequently require that an agency hold an evidentiary hearing before making a decision which impacts an individual’s rights, duties or responsibilities such as revoking a license issued to an individual to be authorized to practice their professional occupation). Generally, an opportunity for a contested case hearing must be provided when the agency action will deprives a person of a “property interest.”
Even if a statute is silent on this point, the constitution itself may require an evidentiary hearing. This requirement in Iowa is known as a contested case hearing. Not every action taken by an agency creates a right for an individual to a contested case. A contested case is similar to a judicial hearing, except that it is held before an administrative agency, not a court. The Iowa Administrative Procedures Act (IAPA) creates a “trial-type process” that uses a presiding officer instead of a judge. The presiding officer can be an administrative law judge or a designated official of the agency (such as a director, a board or commission). There is no jury involved with the contested case process.
Due Process Protections
The contested case hearing provides many of the same “due process of law protections” found in judicial hearings. These protections ensure that a decision is rendered based only on evidence and testimony that has been introduced as part of the process and that the decision-maker is not biased against the individuals who are party to the case. This contrasts with virtually any other type of agency decision-making such as rulemaking, granting waivers or other actions. In these situations, the agency may base their decision on information gained from whatever source it chooses.
Virtually any agency action that impacts individual rights, duties or responsibilities can be appealed through the judicial system. This includes rulemaking, contested case decisions, a petition for waiver to an administrative rule requirement or any other action. Any person who is "aggrieved or adversely affected" by an agency action, including rulemaking, can seek judicial review through Iowa's court system. If an agency offers any sort of internal appeal process, that process must be followed before seeking judicial review. Judicial review is similar to a trial, but there is no right to jury; all decisions are rendered by a judge. The process for seeking judicial review is set out in Iowa Code section 17A.19.
Attorney General Opinions for Iowa
Attorney General Opinions answer legal questions of a public nature that relate to a public official's duties. An opinion may be requested by members of the General Assembly, State Officers (elected or appointed), or County Attorneys. An Attorney General's Opinion helps to interpret laws and guide state and local officials in applying the laws. An opinion is similar to a legal precedent and stands until a court or later opinion overrules it or new legislation is enacted to change the statute in question. Opinions are not binding on a court, but are usually given careful consideration and respect. The most appropriate questions for opinions are questions about inconsistent statutes or legal principles, confusion in the law itself, the constitutionality of a statute or rule, or legal disputes between two government entities.
Administrative Rules Review Committee
The ten-member Administrative Rules Review Committee is a legislative committee made up of House and Senate members; it provides legislative oversight over agency rulemaking. The committee operates as an integral part of the rulemaking process, reviewing most rules before they go into effect. Meetings are open to the public and interested persons may request an opportunity to speak before the committee.