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Reviewability of Federal Administrative Agency Decisions

Federal administrative agencies make adjudicatory decisions in regulatory cases. Agency cases include many diverse subjects, such as Social Security benefit claims, Federal Communication Commission licensing matters, and Food and Drug Administration proceedings to enforce provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. If the person or company affected by the decision is dissatisfied with the agency’s ruling, the decision can be appealed to a court. This article discusses the requirements that must be met before an agency’s decision can be appealed to the court.

Presumption of Reviewability


The Federal Administrative Procedure Act (FAPA) governs the procedures followed by federal agencies in enforcing their rules and regulations. Under FAPA, there is a basic presumption that agency decisions can be reviewed. However, certain agency decisions are precluded by statute from judicial review. Also, matters that are left to the sole discretion of the agency by law are not subject to judicial review.

Final Order of Agency


Before an agency’s decision can be reviewed, the decision has to be a final one. Finality means the agency’s order has a substantial effect on the parties that cannot be altered by later administrative action. In addition to finality, the courts consider whether postponing judicial review would subject the party seeking review to irreparable injury (injury that cannot be compensated through an award of damages) and whether judicial review would invade matters reserved to the agency’s discretion.



Before proceeding in an appeal, the court has to determine whether the person seeking review of the agency’s decision has standing. Persons have standing only if they have suffered a real injury, there is a causal connection between the agency’s action and the injury, and the court is capable of taking action that will remove the injury. If the person lacks standing to sue, the court will dismiss the appeal.

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies


The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies means that the person or company affected by the agency’s decision must use all possible remedies within the agency itself before appealing to the court. For example, if the agency provides for a review of its initial decision by a higher level within the agency, an administrative appeal would have to be made before the matter could be appealed to the court. The purpose of the exhaustion doctrine is to prevent the court from prematurely interfering with agency processes.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.