Simplifying the Standard of Review in North Carolina Administrative Appeals
Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary, 33-2, Fall 2013
58 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 1, 2014
The North Carolina Administrative Procedure Act (APA) was enacted in 1973 with the express purpose of establishing “a uniform system of administrative rulemaking and adjudicatory procedure for agencies.” The system extends to standards of judicial review, which are explicitly stated in section 150B-51 of Article 4 of the APA. Consistent with the statutory goal of uniformity, the North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that section 150B-51 is the default standard of judicial review for appeals of agency orders and decisions. However, numerous agency-specific statutes undermine the APA’s goal of uniform judicial review. This Article argues that the legislature should revise such statutes, thereby standardizing, simplifying, and clarifying the standard of judicial review of administrative appeals.
This Article has two purposes, one descriptive and one normative. The descriptive task is to provide an overview of the standards of judicial review in North Carolina, including recent legislative updates, to assist superior court judges and practitioners in understanding these standards. There is some urgency in educating the North Carolina bench and bar in this area. Now that ALJs can enter final orders in contested cases, agencies have the right to appeal unfavorable decisions to the superior court, which may cause a significant increase in the number of cases brought to the courts and a corresponding need for a clear and predictable regime of judicial review.
Part II of this Article surveys and summarizes the current landscape of appellate and original jurisdiction over administrative appeals in the superior courts, including recent legislative updates, with the intention of providing a useful guide to judges and practitioners alike. Part III of this Article proposes legislative updates to simplify and clarify superior court jurisdiction over administrative appeals. First, the legislature should amend almost all of the statutes that confer original jurisdiction on the reviewing courts, conferring appellate jurisdiction instead. Second, the legislature should consider amending the current array of agency-specific judicial review statutes to use language that more clearly and simply confers APA-style appellate jurisdiction on the reviewing court.
Keywords: standard of review, administrative appeals, North Carolina, administrative procedure act, APA, NC
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