Contested Case Hearings: The Preliminary Steps

  • Notice of Hearing

    A state or local government agency begins an administrative contested case proceeding by issuing a Notice of Hearing. The Notice of Hearing includes a description of what is in dispute, the names of the parties to the dispute, and some information about the rules that will govern how the hearing will be conducted. The Notice of Hearing names the administrative law judge and sets the time, date, and place of the hearing or prehearing conference. Once you receive the Notice of Hearing, you are a party to the case. The agency that sent the Notice of Hearing is usually also a party.

  • Prehearing Conference

    In some cases the administrative law judge may hold a prehearing conference before the hearing. The reasons for having a prehearing conference are: (1) to set a schedule of things that may have to happen before the hearing; (2) to help parties narrow the issues that are in dispute; and (3) to give parties a chance to discuss settling differences without a hearing, either informally or through mediation.

    If there is going to be a prehearing conference before the hearing, the Notice of Hearing will include the time and place, or the administrative law judge will send you an order or letter notifying you of the time and place of any prehearing conferences.

    IMPORTANT REMINDER: Read through the Notice of Hearing and any of the other documents that you received from the agency very carefully. Those documents not only tell you what the agency believes the contested issues to be, they also give you important information about deadlines and about what rights you have.

  • Notice of Appearance

    Along with the Notice of Hearing you may also have received a form with some blanks, called a Notice of Appearance. Fill in the blanks on that form and send it to OAH and the other party as soon as possible. The Notice of Appearance lets the Administrative Law Judge know that you will be attending the hearing and whether you will handle the contested case proceeding yourself or whether you will have a lawyer represent you.

  • What If I Can't Be at the Hearing or a Prehearing Conference On the Scheduled Date?

    You must have a good reason to change a hearing or prehearing conference date that is specified in the Notice of Hearing or in some other order. If you do have a good reason, you must contact the administrative law judge immediately and obtain his or her agreement to reschedule the hearing or the prehearing conference. The legal terminology for this is requesting a continuance, and you must make your request for a continuance well before the hearing is scheduled to take place.

    IMPORTANT REMINDER: If a party fails to show up at a scheduled prehearing conference or hearing without the administrative law judge's prior consent, that party can be found to be "in default," which means that the issues in the case will be decided against that party without any further hearing

  • Do I Have to Hire a Lawyer to Represent Me in an Administrative Contested Case Proceeding?

    Usually the state or local government agency has a lawyer. You must decide whether you also want to have a lawyer representing you in the proceeding. It is your choice. If you do not know how to find a lawyer, the Minnesota State Bar Association maintains a Lawyer Referral Service that you can contact at the following numbers:

    Hennepin County     (612) 752-6666
    Ramsey County      (651) 224-1775
    Dakota County  (612) 431-3200
    Other Counties  1-800-292-4152
    Volunteer Lawyers Network  (612) 752-6677

    Low-income Minnesotans may qualify for assistance from Legal Aid offices. You can obtain further information about that at the following numbers:

    Hennepin County   (612) 334-5970, or (612) 752-6677
    Ramsey County    (651) 222-4731
    Other Counties Contact the Minnesota State Bar Association at (612) 333-1183

    IMPORTANT REMINDER: If you decide to handle your case by yourself, remember that you must follow the same hearing rules as a party who is represented by a lawyer. The administrative law judge must remain neutral and impartial. Although the administrative law judge may explain what is happening during the hearing and why, the judge cannot help either side or offer legal advice.

  • Are There Rules or Other Requirements for How Administrative Contested Case Proceedings Are Conducted?

    Administrative law judges must conduct their proceedings according to the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act, found in Minnesota Statutes. Sections 14.57 through 14.62 of Minnesota Statutes deal with the legislature's requirements for contested case proceedings. Most public libraries throughout the state have copies of the current Minnesota Statutes. The state's Revisor of Statutes also makes Minnesota Statutes available on the Internet at www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us.

    OAH also has rules for administrative contested case proceedings. The administrative law judge who will preside over your hearing will explain some of those rules at the beginning of the hearing. But many rules are about things that happen before the hearing. The OAH rules for contested case proceedings can be found in Minnesota Rules, parts 1400.5100 through 1400.8401 (or 1400.8505 through 1400.8612 for expedited cases). These rules can be found in many public libraries. The rules can also be found on the Internet at the OAH website (www.oah.state.mn.us, which links to the Revisor's Office website).

    A copy of the rules and statutes pertaining to contested administrative hearings can also be purchased for $15.00 (Stock No. 3-14) through the State's bookstore located at:

    117 University Avenue
    St. Paul, MN 55155
    Telephone Numbers:
    Metro (651) 297-3000
    Metro TTY for Hearing impaired  (651) 282-5077
    Toll Free  1-800-657-3757
    Toll Free TTY for Hearing impaired  1-800 657-3706

    IMPORTANT REMINDER: The administrative law judge may tell the parties what some statutes and rules say or mean while conducting the hearing or when making a ruling in your proceeding, but the judge cannot give you advice about what statutes or rules might apply in your case. Parties to the proceeding have the responsibility for presenting their own arguments about how the statutes and rules should be interpreted.

  • Can I Ask the Administrative Law Judge For Help With My Case?

    It is very important that administrative law judges remain completely neutral and impartial. Administrative law judges cannot discuss your case with you or the other party unless all parties or their lawyers are present to hear what is being said. A limited exception is that the administrative law judge may discuss hearing dates and deadlines with you. If you are in doubt about whether it is proper to call the administrative law judge, you may call OAH at (651) 361-7900 and ask to talk to a staff attorney.

    If you must talk to the administrative law judge before or after the hearing, please arrange for a conference telephone call so that the other parties or their attorneys know what is being talked about and can tell their side of the story, if necessary. Also any time you write to the administrative law judge, you must send a copy to the other parties.

  • Can I Talk to the State or Local Government Agency About My Case Before the Hearing?

    Yes. You can contact the agency to ask for additional information about your case or to try to settle it without having a hearing. If you have an attorney, your attorney can contact the agency's attorney or the agency representative listed in the Notice of Hearing.

  • What Does the Term "Discovery" Mean and How Is Discovery Handled?

    The legal term discovery refers to how parties can obtain important information from other parties before the hearing starts. Discovery can be informal, such as providing each other with copies of documents that the parties intend to introduce as evidence. Or it can be formal and proceed according to the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure. The administrative law judge generally has the authority to decide which exchanges of information to allow, how much information must be given to the other parties, and when and how the information must be given.

    If you want some information about your case from another party before the hearing begins, you should simply ask the party's attorney for that information. OAH encourages voluntary exchange of information. If there is a dispute about whether you are entitled to the information that you are requesting, first try to resolve the dispute through a telephone conference with the other party and the administrative law judge. If you cannot work things out informally, you may ask the administrative law judge to make a decision on how to resolve the dispute. If you want an administrative law judge to make a decision on something, you must make a "motion."

  • What Does the Term "Motion" Mean and How Are Motions Handled?

    The Term motion means a written request by a party for the administrative law judge to take action or to resolve a dispute between the parties. Common examples are making a motion for a continuance - that is, to reschedule a hearing for a later date - or for an extension - that is, to postpone a deadline that the administrative law judge has set. Other motions might ask the administrative law judge to settle disputes between the parties - for example, disputes over what kinds of information the parties are giving to each another before the hearing. When making a motion, explain to the administrative law judge what you want and the reasons for your request. You must send a copy of your motion to the other parties.

    During the hearing itself, motions can be made orally unless the administrative law judge directs a party to make it in writing. But if made before or after the hearing, motions must be made in writing, with copies sent to the other parties. Under OAH rules, the other party has ten days to submit a written response to a written motion unless the administrative law judge specifically shortens or lengthens the time for responding.

    There is yet another kind of motion that can result in ending the whole proceeding without holding a hearing. That kind of motion is called a "motion for summary disposition."

  • What Are "Motions for Summary Disposition"?

    Under OAH rules, a party may make what is called a motion for summary disposition when there is no real dispute about the facts, and the party believes that applying the law to the undisputed facts will result in a favorable decision. If the administrative law judge grants the motion for summary disposition, the contested case proceeding is over, and the administrative law judge issues a final order or recommends action to the agency. On the other hand, if important facts are in dispute, the administrative law judge must hold a hearing, receive each party's evidence about the facts, and make findings that establish what the important facts are.

    The party making a motion for summary disposition must show that there is no genuine dispute about "material facts" - that is, important facts that will affect the outcome of the case. A party making a motion for summary disposition needs to provide documents that support the factual statements in the motion. Such documents often include sworn statements, called affidavits.

    In addition to showing that there no genuine dispute exists about the important facts, a party making a motion for summary disposition must show that Minnesota law supports and favors its position. If the agency makes a motion for summary disposition in your case, there are two basic defenses. First, you can present evidence (either documents or sworn statements) establishing that there are still important facts in dispute. But disputes about important facts must be "genuine" ones - that is, you must be prepared to offer some persuasive evidence establishing that the facts are different from what the other party is claiming. Second, even if there is no real dispute about the facts, you may submit your views about the law to convince the administrative law judge that the agency's view of Minnesota law is wrong.

    IMPORTANT REMINDER: If you do receive a motion for summary disposition in your case, it is important that you act promptly to either respond to the motion or to request more time to respond. OAH rules allow only ten (10) working days to provide the administrative law judge with your response to the motion. If you do not respond to the motion, the administrative law judge will make a decision based only on what the other party has submitted. Be sure to send a copy of your response to the other parties.

  • Can I Settle My Case Without a Hearing?

    OAH encourages parties to settle their disputes without a formal hearing. It is entirely appropriate for parties to discuss settling their differences at any time. If you would like to discuss the possibility of a settlement, you should contact the agency's representative before the hearing. That person's name, address, and telephone can normally be found on the Notice of Hearing that you received. You may tell the administrative law judge that you are discussing settlement, but neither party should describe what kinds of settlements are being talked about. If your attempts at settlement are unsuccessful, nothing said during your settlement discussions can be placed into evidence at your hearing.

    Sometimes when parties are having trouble settling their disputes, a neutral mediator can help. The Chief Administrative Law Judge may appoint a different administrative law judge - that is, someone other than the administrative law judge who will be conducting your hearing - to help the parties resolve their differences. But both parties must want a mediator to be appointed. So, if you are interested in mediation, you should discuss it with the agency's representative. If the agency agrees to mediation, the agency attorney will request the Chief Administrative Law Judge to appoint a mediator.