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New Jersey’s Administrative Law Courts

national-gallery-of-art-1380105-m.jpgAs our society has grown more complex, the government has been forced to take on more responsibilities. It created administrative agencies in the executive department, including for example, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Board of Public Utilities, the Merit System Board, the Department of Community Affairs, the Casino Control Commission, and Health and Senior Services. These agencies regulate in their respective areas, investigate and prosecute violations, and make decisions and issue penalties. These agencies are known as the “fourth branch” because they combine the functions of all three government branches.

The New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”) is an independent state agency that provides independent and neutral hearings over these agency’s actions and rulemaking procedures. Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) hold trials to determine facts and make recommended decisions when individuals dispute agency actions. The agency itself then makes final decisions based on the ALJ’s opinion, which can be appealed to the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court, and then to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

What To Expect At An OAL Hearing

A request for a hearing should be sent to the appropriate state agency making a decision. That agency will then send the case to the OAL for a hearing. In “contested cases” an ALJ will be assigned, and hold a trial. The ALJ makes a recommended decision which it sends to the agency that sent the case to the OAL. The head of that agency will review the opinion and has the right to adopt, reject, or modify the opinion. That agency’s head is the final decision maker. An appeal of the final decision is available to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court within forty-five days of the date of the final decision.

Notice of Filing

When a case is sent to the OAL a Notice of Filing or a Notice of Filing and Hearing is mailed to all the parties. The notice will identify the agency that sent the request and will generally contain information that can help a party prepare for a hearing, including the issues that will be discussed at the hearing.

Prehearing Conference

In certain cases a prehearing conference will be scheduled with the ALJ. The parties will discuss the issues to be presented and the procedure that will be followed. A notice will be issued that will identify the time, date, and place of the prehearing conference, the name of the ALJ who will conduct the conference, whether it will be in person or by telephone, and what will be discussed at the conference. Any party can request a prehearing conference by letter or telephone call to the ALJ or the Clerk’s office.
Discovery
Discovery is the process through which information is obtained to assist parties with their cases. People can ask an opposing party to respond to written questions (called interrogatories) and provide copies of documents. A party intending to provide discovery must do so within fifteen days. Objections to discovery requests must be made within ten days. Parties that do not receive discovery or receive inadequate discovery responses must notify the ALJ. The ALJ will then resolve all discovery disputes.

If the testimony of a person who has firsthand knowledge is required, a subpoena must be issued. A subpoena is a legal document that orders a person to appear at the hearing and give testimony.

Types of Cases

The OAL handles a wide variety of cases. For instance, it will hear civil service appeals. It handles appeals of denials of benefits. It hears defenses to violations issued by New Jersey’s administrative agencies, such as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

Attorneys are permitted to represent a party at the OAL. Our attorneys have extensive experience representing individuals and businesses in the OAL. If you have a dispute with a New Jersey agency determination, we can help. To learn more about what our experienced New Jersey administrative law attorneys can do to help, please visit our website, e-mail us, or call one of our lawyers at (973) 890-0004.