As a Texas Administrative Law Lawyer and Texas Appeals Attorney, I frequently handle appeals from Texas Administrative agencies. If you need to appeal a decision from such an agency, you will want to know how your case is different from an “ordinary” appeal.
- Most Administrative Appeals Go to the Texas Third Court of Appeals – Most administrative agencies are governed by the Texas Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). As a result, the appeals from those agencies goes to the Texas Third Court of Appeals, located in Austin, Texas. There are six judges (called Justices) on this court and they spend a lot of time on these kinds of cases and thus make most of the administrative law in Texas. For administrative law lawyers, this is the most important court in Texas. (Only a very few cases are accepted for review by the Texas Supreme Court.) Thus, your administrative law appeal lawyer should be very familiar with the judges and the law made by the Third Court of Appeals.
- Some Texas Agencies Are Appealed More Than Others – I did a very informal survey of the Third Court of Appeal’s decisions in the last three years dealing with administrative law. There were about 53 cases. Of those, most agencies had only one appeal in that period. However, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (“PUCT”) had seven each, with six being filed relating to the Comptroller’s office. The TCEQ, PUCT and Comptroller’s cases may involve issues worth many millions of dollars to one or more parties, which would justify the expense of an appeal.
- It is VERY Difficult To Overturn a Finding of Fact By an Administrative Agency – If you present a dozen winners of the Nobel Prize on your side of the case and the other side presents a junior high school teacher as an expert, the administrative agency can rely on the opinion of the junior high school teacher and be upheld on appeal. The court looks for evidence that supports the decision of the agency and stops. If there is more than a “scintilla” of evidence supporting the agency, the court of appeals is more than likely going to uphold that determination. (A “scintilla” is one of those glowing sparks you see flying away from a fire. It is Lawyer-Talk for something small. Two or more small pieces of evidence are enough to get the agency’s factual determination upheld.)
- It is Possible to Overturn The Legal Conclusions of the Agency – If the agency’s determination turns on a question of law, you MAY have a chance in overturning it on appeal. The Court looks at the questions relating to law “de novo” which is Lawyer-Talk for “a fresh look.” The stated primary goal is to find the “intent of the authors.” Thus, I recently read a case about whether a company that bought a helicopter was entitled to a sales tax exemption. The Comptroller said “no,” the buyer said “yes.” The District Court agreed with the Comptroller, but the Court of Appeals looked at the law and decided that the better reading of the legislative intent was that the Legislature wanted to exempt the type of sale at issue. Thus, you should expect your lawyer to challenge the legal reasoning of the agency.
- Most Agency Decisions Are Upheld – If you are thinking about fighting an agency decision, you need to know that there is a high likelihood you are not going to win. In all likelihood, your lawyer is going to be going up against an assistant Attorney General who has briefed dozen of these types of cases. They know exactly what arguments to make that will persuade the Justices of the Court of Appeals. Thus, you need an attorney that is equally skilled at researching the law and writing briefs.
If you are thinking about taking an appeal of an administrative decision, I encourage you to contact me. I have over 30 years’ worth of experience in administrative law and appeals. You need to act quickly – if you do not follow the proper procedures, you can lose your appeal even before you get stated! Call me at (512) 689-7815 while you are thinking about your case!