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By Jordan Matyas and Michael B. Cohen
As the state entity charged with issuing and regulating professional licenses, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is the department which conducts disciplinary hearings and applies sanctions to licensees whose professional performance has been found unsatisfactory. Once a formal disciplinary hearing has been held, the Director of Professional Regulation will decide what, if any, action to take. This decision could include suspending or revoking a professional license or even include the imposition of monetary penalties.
For Illinois licensees experiencing this process, the future may seem grim. Having a professional license revoked or worse can seriously impact an individual’s career, employability, and reputation. The Administrative Law Judges who oversee these hearing have the power to make decisions that affect a person’s legal right and privileges as well. Their recommendations and the Director’s decision may feel like the end of the road. The Director’s decision is even called a “final order,” implying that it is incontestable.
However, under Illinois law, licensees do in fact have the right to appeal an IDFPR decision, if in a somewhat limited way. The Illinois Administrative Review Law allows licensees to challenge the request Director’s decision in the Circuit Court(735 ILCS 5/3-102). An administrative review is not an opportunity to reargue a case. No new or different evidence may be presented. As stated in Cook County Republican Party v. Illinois State Board of Elections (2009), the court’s function is not “to reweigh evidence or to make an independent determination of the facts.” Rather, in an administrative review action, the Circuit Court presumes that the IDFPR’s findings are correct. The burden is on the plaintiff to show otherwise solely based upon a review of the administrative record, meaning all the documents and testimony that was adduced before the Administrative Law Judge.
Unlike the administrative hearing, which focused on questions of fact, an administrative review looks instead at whether the law was followed, the evidence was properly weighed, and the correct rules and procedures applied during the proceedings. The scope of the Circuit Court’s review means that it will only reverse an administrative decision if it finds that the factual findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence, the conclusions of law were clearly erroneous, or that the decision was otherwise arbitrary or capricious (735 ILCS 5/3-110).
Requesting an administrative review requires a number of important actions are completed within a specified timeframe. Typically, a licensee will receive a copy of the decision along with a notice of their right to judicial review. Most licensees must then request a review within 35 days of the date of the decision (735 ILCS 5/3-103). An Illinois State Bar Association checklist further explains that to be taken up by the court, a review petition must, among other things, “Request [the] transcript of evidence be filed; Contain a statement that the decision of the agency be reviewed; Name, as a defendant, each and every party to the administrative proceeding; and Serve summons upon all parties of record to the administrative proceeding.” The resulting document must capture the essence of the case as well as describe the law, rule, or procedure in question.
Once correctly filed in the Circuit Court, an administrative review functions similar to other court cases in that it can be appealed to a higher court. For example, in Christopher J. Perry and Perry Associates, LLC v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (2017), Perry, a structural engineer, and his firm alleged that they were denied access to documents pertinent to his defense during his IDFPR hearing. After affirmances in favor of the IDFPR in the Circuit Court and Appellate Court, the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts’ rulings and reversed. As this and other cases show, there are options available to those with enough time and patience to see the process through.
While the law does give licensees the ability to request a review of the IDFPR Director’s decision, there are many ways for the process to go wrong. From determining whether you can mount a successful challenge to an IDFPR decision to carrying out the filings, summons, and other critical steps, appealing an IDFPR decision can be difficult. The best thing to do is to contact an experienced administrative law attorney to help you through the process. Indeed, given that no new evidence can be presented to the Circuit Court, in many cases it may be best to consult with an attorney well before a final administrative decision is rendered so as to preserve and marshal your optimal factual and legal defenses should an appeal to the Circuit Court be necessary.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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