skip to content
Primary navigation

Self Help

Administrative Law Contested Case Hearing Guide

When state or local government takes action, Minnesota law often grants affected individuals and businesses a right to challenge the action at a hearing. These types of hearings are called contested case proceedings.

  • What is a Contested Case Proceeding?

    Minnesota law often grants affected individuals and businesses a right to challenge the actions of their government. These matters, called “contested case proceedings,” result when a government agency takes an action, and an individual or entity appeals that action through the process provided by the agency. Once the appeal is filed, the agency is required to initiate a contested case hearing by following the steps generally outlined below.

    Back to top
  • Do I Need a Lawyer?

    You do not have to hire a lawyer, but you may choose to do so. Usually, the involved government agency will have a lawyer. For help finding a lawyer, you can contact the organizations listed on Lawyer Referral and Legal Assistance Services.

    If you choose to represent yourself, you must follow the same procedural rules as a party who is represented by a lawyer. The Administrative Law Judge may explain legal processes, but cannot help either side or give legal advice.

    Back to top
  • What Procedural Rules Apply at OAH?

    Administrative Law Judges conduct contested case proceedings according to the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act (Minnesota Statutes, sections 14.57 through 14.62). In addition to the law, you should review the specific procedural rules for contested case proceedings found in Minnesota Rules, parts 1400.5100 through 1400.8612

    Back to top
  • Why Did I Get a Notice of Hearing?

    You got a Notice of Hearing because you appealed a government agency’s decision to take some specific action that affects you. Please read through the Notice of Hearing and its attachments very carefully. Fill out the attached Notice of Appearance form and e-File it or send it to the Office of Administrative Hearings. You must also send it to the other party, and all of this has to be done within 20 days after you receive it. The Notice of Appearance lets the Office of Administrative Hearings know that you will attend the hearing and whether you will represent yourself or have a lawyer represent you, and lets the other party know how to contact you to discuss resolution of the matter prior to hearing.

    Back to top
  • Can I Communicate with the Administrative Law Judge?

    The Judge can only discuss the case with you if the attorney for the government agency is also present for the conversation. If you have a question for the Judge regarding anything about the process or the case, you should ask the Judge’s assistant. To find the assistant's contact information, locate your judge's profile.

    If you need to reschedule a Prehearing Conference or Hearing, you should make that request in writing. Please do that as far in advance of the scheduled date as possible and at least 5 days before the date. If something comes up at the last minute and you cannot attend, you should call the Judge’s assistant to find out what to do.

    Back to top
  • What is a Prehearing Conference?

    A prehearing conference is usually the first event scheduled as part of a contested case proceeding.  At a prehearing conference, the Judge and parties will:

    • Make scheduling decisions, 
    • Clarify and narrow the legal issues that need to be decided, and 
    • Discuss settlement options, including mediation. 

    The Notice of Hearing may include the time and place of the prehearing conference. If it does not, the Administrative Law Judge will send you an order notifying you of the time and place of the prehearing conference or the telephone number that will allow you to participate by phone. 

    If you do not appear in person or by telephone for the prehearing conference you may be found in default. A finding of default means that everything the other side said may be taken as true and the action that the government wants to take can be ordered by the Judge.

    Back to top
  • What is a Prehearing Order?

    The Judge will send out a Prehearing Order after the prehearing conference. The Prehearing Order tells you the hearing date and important deadlines for other things that need to be done before the hearing. The Prehearing Order will have a deadline date for the parties to exchange their evidence. It will also have a deadline date for each side giving the other a list of witnesses they intend to have come to the hearing. It may also have a deadline for bringing motions. It is important to read the Prehearing Order carefully.

    Back to top
  • Why and How Would I File a Motion?

    A motion is a written request for the Administrative Law Judge to allow a party to do something (obtain information, change a scheduled date, etc.) or to decide a preliminary dispute between the parties. For example, a motion for a continuance asks the judge to reschedule a hearing for a later date. Other motions might ask the Administrative Law Judge to decide a specific legal issue, like whether or not a hearing is necessary on specific parts of the claim or defense. A motion for summary disposition asks the judge to rule that there is no need for a hearing because the law is clear and the outcome cannot be disputed. 

    To make a motion, you must put your request in writing, file it with the Administrative Law Judge and send it to the other party. The other party has ten days to submit a written response. The judge will issue a written decision on the motion. If the Judge grants a motion for summary disposition, the contested case proceeding is over and there will be no hearing. 

    Back to top
  • What is a Protective Order?

    If private spoken or written information might become part of the official record in your contested case proceeding, it will become public unless the Judge issues a Protective Order keeping it private.   A Protective Order is an order signed by the Judge that tells people not to repeat certain private information that they learn during a case.  The order does not keep you from sharing information that you already had.
    Back to top
  • How Can I Resolve my Case Without a Hearing?

    Most cases are settled without a hearing. A settlement can save time, money and stress for all sides. If you want to talk about settling your case, contact the lawyer for the government agency as soon as you can. Their contact information will be on the Notice of Hearing that you received.

    Back to top
  • How do I Best Prepare for the Hearing?

    • Make an outline of what you want to say at the hearing. 
    • Decide who your witnesses will be. These are people who can talk about the details of your case. Make arrangements with them to be present at the time and place of the hearing.
    • Decide what exhibits you want to bring. Exhibits are things that you want the Judge to look at, such as pictures, letters, contracts, reports, or medical records. You must give the other side and the Judge copies of everything you want the Judge to know about
    • Practice explaining your case to a friend. If your friend doesn't think your position makes sense, think about how to improve your presentation to make it more clear and understandable.
    Back to top
  • What if I Don’t Have all the Documents I Need and Some Witnesses Won’t Agree to Come to a Hearing?

    You can subpoena witnesses or documents to make sure that they are available at the hearing. You can get a subpoena from the Office of Administrative Hearings for a fee. The subpoena must be handed to the witness by an adult who is not a party to the case. If you subpoena a witness, you will need to pay that witness a fee, plus mileage from the witness’ home to the hearing and back. 

    If you receive a subpoena, do not ignore it. It is a court order. Read more information about subpoenas or download a Subpoena Request Form

    Back to top
  • What Happens at the Hearing?

    The Judge’s job is to be neutral and fair, and decide the facts and the law. It is your job to prove to the Court what you believe happened. It is also your job to convince the Judge that you are right by having good supporting witnesses and documents and by showing the court that the law supports the relief you seek.

    What do I do on the day of hearing?

    • Come to the hearing early to allow time to park and find the courtroom. 
    • Dress and act respectfully. Treat the Judge and all others with respect. Address everyone formally and politely; for example, “Your Honor”, “Mr. Smith”, or “the Department.”
    • Bring everything you need, including copies of all papers you have sent or received regarding your case. If you have not already sent something to the Judge and the lawyer for the government agency but want to include it at the hearing, you must bring a copy for yourself, a copy for the Judge, and a copy for the government agency. 
    • Bring a notepad and pens for taking notes during the hearing. 
    • Bring an outline of what you want to say. Before you conclude, look back to see if you covered each point. 
    • Stand when the Judge enters the room.
    • Listen carefully during the hearing.
    • Ask the Judge’s permission to speak, and talk directly to the Judge and not the other side. When you talk to the Judge, start by saying "Your Honor". 
    • Speak loudly and clearly. Only one person can speak at a time. 
    • Stay at your table.  If you need to give a witness or the judge a document, you must first ask, “May I approach the witness?” or “May I approach the Bench?” and get the Judge’s permission.

    What should I not do at the hearing?

    • Do not miss your hearing date. Missing your hearing date, or anything the Judge has ordered you to do, can result in you losing your case without a hearing. 
    • Do not bring young children to court unless the Judge has asked you to do so. 
    • Do not eat food or chew gum in the courtroom. 
    • Do not keep your cell phone turned on. 
    • Do not interrupt another person. 
    • Do not leave the courtroom until excused. If you need a break for any reason, ask the Judge if you may say something, wait for the Judge’s response, tell the Judge that you need a break, and the Judge may then call for a recess. 

    What is an Opening Statement?

    Before any witnesses are called or any documents are examined, the Judge will give the parties an opportunity to present an Opening Statement. An Opening Statement is just a quick outline of what you believe the witnesses will say and how that will prove your case. You can choose not to make an Opening Statement if you prefer not to. 

    What Rules Should Guide My Testimony?

    If you are a party, your testimony will be presented as answers to questions asked by your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, you will present your testimony by simply telling the Judge what you want him or her to know.  This part is called “direct examination.” When the opposing party questions you, it is called “cross examination.” This process may be repeated several times.

    When you testify, you should always: 

    • Tell the truth. This is crucial. Do not try to color your testimony to help or hurt either side. Answer all questions honestly. If you don’t know, say so. 
    • Think Before You Answer. Consider the question asked, and give a thoughtful answer. Do not answer a question for which you do not know the answer. If you do not understand the question, do not try to answer it. 
    • Stick to the Facts. Only testify about your personal knowledge. What you KNOW is important; what you THINK is not. 
    • Answer Directly. Listen carefully to the question. If you can answer “yes” or “no,” do so. Do not volunteer information that does not respond to the question. 
    • Speak Clearly. The hearing will be recorded. Speak clearly so that everyone can hear you and your statements are accurately recorded.
    • Stop If You Hear “Objection!” The judge will direct you on whether to answer or not.
    • Stay Calm. Losing your temper can harm your credibility and discredit your testimony. 

    How Much is Enough Evidence?

    In each case, one party has the “burden of proof,” which means that party has the responsibility to produce evidence that sufficiently establishes all essential facts. The agency proposing an action usually has the burden of proving the facts that are essential to the claim. If you are uncertain about who has the burden of proof, ask the Administrative Law Judge during the Prehearing Conference.

    Remember, the Judge only considers relevant evidence. The Administrative Law Judge will refuse to accept privileged evidence, such as conversations between you and your lawyer, evidence provided by an unreliable witness, or evidence that is not related to the issues the Judge needs to decide.

    Do I Need to Give a Closing Argument?

    After all the evidence has been presented, the Judge will give the parties an opportunity to present closing arguments. If you choose to do this, you should summarize the facts you believe the evidence showed, what principles of law you think apply, and explain how the law should be applied to the facts to produce the outcome that you think is appropriate.

    What Happens When the Hearing is Over?

    Before you leave the courtroom, make sure you understand what happens next.  Do you need to come back for another day of hearing? Do you need to prepare a written legal argument or proposed court order? Do you need to take other steps or actions? Will the Judge make an order as a result of the hearing? Politely ask questions if you do not understand what you are expected to do next.

    Back to top
  • How Will I Know What the Judge Decides?

    In some cases, the Judge’s written decision is the final order in the case. In most cases at the Office of Administrative Hearings, the Judge’s decision is a written recommendation to the government agency. The head of the agency then issues a final order.  

    The Judge must put the recommendation or order in writing. The Office of Administrative Hearings will mail you a copy of the decision. The judge will tell you at the end of the hearing when the record close date will be. Sometimes it will be the same day as the last day of hearing. Sometimes it will be on the date that the Judge has requested written closing arguments be submitted. You can expect your copy of the decision to be sent approximately 30 days after the record close date.

    Back to top
  • Can I Appeal the Judge's Decision?

    Final orders can be appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Sometimes a specific law allows another type of appeal. The Office of Administrative Hearings cannot assist you in pursuing an appeal. Most people seek the advice and services of a lawyer when appealing a decision.

    Back to top
back to top