If an administrative agency has made a decision that adversely affects you, you have options. Here’s one path to take.
What can you do if an Alabama administrative agency issues a decision that you feel is wrong and affects you negatively? For example, what if the Department of Human Resources closes a foster home due to an erroneous finding of child abuse and neglect?
You can appeal DHR’s decision. Here’s what you need to do:
The Administrative Procedures Act, part of the Alabama Code, provides specific requirements for parties who want to challenge administrative decisions. Ala. Code § 41-22-20 requires you to file a timely notice of appeal of DHR’s decision with a state circuit court. The notice must (1) identify the aggrieved party (you), (2) identify the decision that you want reviewed, and (3) provide DHR with sufficient information to put it on notice that you are seeking judicial review of its decision and that it should prepare the transcript of the proceeding that you want reviewed. See Ex parte Alabama Medicaid Agency, No. 2200374, released on April 30, 2021.
You must file the notice of appeal within 30 days after you receive notice of DHR’s final decision. Failure to file within 30 days will waive your right to judicial review of DHR’s decision. The judge of the reviewing court can extend the time for filing only for good cause shown. If you send notice through certified mail, the notice is deemed to have been filed on the date it is postmarked. § 41-22-20(d).
You can file the notice of appeal in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, the county where DHR maintains its headquarters, or another county if that is where you reside. § 41-22-20(b). You will have to cover the costs of preparing the transcript. However, DHR or the court may waive the fee if paying would inflict substantial hardship on you.
If DHR did not hold a hearing prior to its decision and the circuit court determines that the decision depends on disputed facts, then the circuit court must order DHR to conduct fact-finding procedures and reconsider its determination. § 41-22-20(e).
After you file your notice of appeal, you will need to file a petition with the circuit court detailing DHR’s decision and why you think it is wrong. Your petition must name DHR as respondent and include statements describing (1) the circumstances of DHR’s order, (2) the particular order you want reviewed, (3) facts and law explaining the basis for the circuit court’s jurisdiction and venue, (4) the grounds on which relief is sought, and (5) the relief you want. § 41-22-20(h).
If you are seeking judicial review of a contested case, the circuit court cannot hear or accept any further evidence about issues of fact that were already determined by DHR. However, you can introduce evidence of fraud or misconduct of DHR personnel or of procedural irregularities before DHR that were not shown in the record or DHR’s order. If the circuit court finds that your evidence is material and there were good reasons for why it was not presented earlier, then the court can order DHR to consider the additional evidence. DHR can then modify its decision. § 41-22-20(i).
The circuit court will review DHR’s decision without a jury. § 41-22-20(j). The court will not substitute its judgment concerning the weight of the evidence. The court can affirm or remand the case to DHR for further proceedings. The court can also reverse the decision, modify, or grant other appropriate relief under circumstances outlined in § 41-22-20(k).
Gretchen Nicole Hedke is going into her third year at The University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa, AL. Raised by a working mother and stay-at-home father, Gretchen strives to combat legal obstacles that fathers face in protecting their children and the law’s valuation of fathers solely according to their financial contributions to the family. Instead, Gretchen is keenly aware of how necessary and impactful a faithful, dedicated, nurturing father is to the stability of family life.