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Environmental Research Skills: SKL-031417: Administrative Decisions

Agency Adjudication

Administrative agencies are primarily concerned with rulemaking and adjudication. Rulemaking is discussed on the page "Regulations and Interpretive Rules." Adjudication is an agency decision regarding permitting, licensing, or enforcement of rules and regulations. Adjudicators may be administrative law judges (ALJs) and are not Article III judges - meaning they are a part of the legislative process and not the judicial branch. Agency adjudicators are civil service employees that are not appointed for life and subject to impeachment. 

Finding Administrative Decisions

Federal administrative decisions are often released on agency websites and available on legal subscription databases like Westlaw, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law. These decisions may also be published in reporters like judicial decisions. See Table 1 in the Bluebook - it lists federal entities and where some of the materials are published. Many of these reporters will be available through the HeinOnline U.S. Federal Agency Documents collection. Note that the Bluebook is not comprehensive and may not reflect up-to-date or easy to use electronic information. 

IMPORTANT: Not all administrative decisions will be precedent decisions - this means they do not have precedential effect for future adjudications and should not be solely relied on for relief. A non-precedent decision is binding only on the parties involved.

As with other information published on agency websites, it would benefit you to become familiar with these websites to see what is and is not available. A good resource for finding administrative decisions free online for many agencies is the guide "Administrative Decisions" from the University of Virginia.

Some Federal Agencies

NOAA

  • Those who receive a violation or permit sanction from NOAA can appeal to ALJs, then to the NOAA Administrator.
  • ALJ and Administrator decisions are available online from 2010 through the NOAA Office of the General Counsel. 
  • Coastal Zone Management Act consistency appeals. Note that there is no official reporter.  
  • Reporters: Ocean Resources and Wildlife Reporter (O.R.W). Bluebook T1.2.

Department of the Interior

  • Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) and Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) are where most administrative decisions come from.  There are also two hearing divisions, but those decisions are non-precedent. See the organization chart of the Office of Hearings and Appeals.
  • Decisions are made available online from the Department from 1920-present. 
  • Reporters: Interior Decisions (Interior Dec.) and Interior and General Land Office Cases Relating to Public Lands (Pub. Lands Dec.) Bluebook T1.2

Environmental Protection Agency

  • Certain statutes are administered under EPA ALJs, including Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and CERCLA. Appeals from ALJ decisions and other adjudicatory procedures (such as permitting) are to the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). 
  • Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) - Active dockets and closed dockets since 1996 are available on the EAB web portal. The website provides access to dockets, board decisions, electronic filing, guidance documents, standing orders, etc.  
  • EPA ALJs - All electronic dockets are available on the Administrative Law Judges' E-Docket Database. Coverage begins in 2004, but it is not necessarily complete. The website provides access to decisions, dockets, orders, etc.  
  • EPA Administrative Enforcement Dockets - Regional Judicial Officers. These electronic dockets have some information from 1989-present.  
  • Reporter: Environmental Administrative Decisions (E.A.D.) Bluebook T1.2

Note on Louisiana

Louisiana DEQ administrative decisions are available on Westlaw (from 1981) and Lexis (from 1984). DEQ and the Department of Natural Resources have their own document systems with a variety of included documents. At the time of writing, these websites are not user friendly. If you work with these departments, you will need to take the time to familiarize yourself with these systems. 

Louisiana has a centralized Division of Administrative Law that handles a variety of hearings, including from DEQ, DNR, and DPSC (transportation of hazardous materials). Certain agencies and actions are exempt; see LA RS 49:991 et seq., in particular 992(D)(1)-(9).