What Exactly is the South Carolina Administrative Law Court?, 0519 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, May 2019, #30

AuthorChelsea J. Clark
PositionVol. 30 Issue 6 Pg. 30

What Exactly is the South Carolina Administrative Law Court?

Vol. 30 Issue 6 Pg. 30

South Carolina BAR Journal

May, 2019

Chelsea J. Clark

To many people, administrative law appears to be a minefield of red tape and regulatory hurdles. A justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court has called administrative law a danger “to the once sacrosanct constitutional principle of separation of powers.”1 However, it remains undisputed that administrative agencies—and the area of practice that surrounds them—are a vital and necessary part of our government.

Indeed, administrative law has its own line of constitutional precedent. These cases compare the need for efficient regulation with the citizen’s rights to procedural due process. For administrative purposes, this due process, which is generally defined as the right to notice, a meaningful opportunity to be heard and judicial review, is enshrined in its own provision of the South Carolina Constitution.2

There are numerous administrative forums in South Carolina, both federal and state. Of the state forums, the South Carolina Administrative Law Court (known as the “ALC”) hears the widest variety of cases, from both a procedural and substantive perspective. Cases heard by the ALC are appealed directly to the Court of Appeals and are never heard in Circuit Court. The Workers Compensation Commission is an example of another forum whose cases are heard on direct appeal. While the ALC hears cases from many different agencies, some administrative cases, including procurement matters, are still channeled from the administrative level to a Circuit Court appeal, and then the Court of Appeals.

The breadth and scope of the substantive jurisdiction of the ALC and the impact it has on the state might surprise attorneys not often practicing in the administrative arena. The ALC hears cases from the Department of Revenue; the Department of Health and Environmental Control; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Corrections; the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services; the Department of Motor Vehicles; and the Department of Employment and Workforce, among others.

These departments, and thus the ALC, have authority over state income tax matters, unemployment benefit cases, numerous different environmental permits such as those for landfills or docks, the licensing and permitting of alcohol sales, the incarceration and parole of inmates, the certification of new healthcare facilities, the suspension of drivers’ licenses, and more. The ALC also hears matters related to the administration of charter schools and daycares, as well as the certifications of law enforcement officers and cases relating to state retirement and benefits programs.

Because of the wide variation of administrative cases heard by the ALC, the sophistication of the parties and the types of procedure used also varies. There are two primary types of cases heard by the ALC. The first is “contested cases,” which are docketed with a “-CC” at the end of the case number. A contested case is a generic administrative term for the first level of hearing at an agency. The term is used in the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act, which applies broadly to agency proceedings. At the ALC, “contested case” refers to matters heard in the trial-level jurisdiction of the court.3 Contested cases are conducted as bench trials in a courtroom before an administrative law judge, who has de novo review of the prior agency decision. Cases heard in this fashion include certificates of need for hospitals, alcohol license or permit violations, and tax matters.

The other primary type of case heard by the ALC is appeals, denoted by an “-AP.” Appeals cases are reviewed under the appellate standard of the Administrative Procedures Act. This standard only allows agency decisions to be modified or reversed in situations such as an error of law or a lack of evidence.4 The...

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