The Difference Between Administrative and Judicial Proceedings

As an attorney with Lavelle Law, Ltd., I deal with both administrative and judicial proceedings.  While similar in many ways, the procedures and outcomes of these proceedings can be difficult to understand.  For purposes of this article, “administrative proceedings” are those that take place before state or federal governing bodies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and other similar governing bodies.  “Judicial proceedings” are those actions that take place in court, such as a breach of contract suit or other civil actions.


Both administrative and judicial proceedings begin with some form of a complaint.  However, the administrative complaint is normally less detailed than a complaint in a judicial proceeding.  Both types of proceedings require an answer, or other response, to a complaint.  Yet the forms these answers take are different.  In an administrative proceeding, a party is generally asserting a position or pointing out to the administrative body why a given complainant has no case.  In some administrative proceedings, this can take the form of a traditional motion to dismiss, but in other cases, the position statement more often looks like a legal brief which explains the law and how it does or does not apply, in a given situation.  In a judicial proceeding, the prototypical response to a complaint is the motion to dismiss, which tends to point out legal deficiencies in a claim or raises a defense that completely nullifies a complaint.  While administrative and judicial responses tend to have the same goal in mind, the defeat of a complaint, the structure and process of these responses are different.


An answer to a complaint in an administrative or judicial setting is similar in the sense that it admits or denies the allegations in the complaint.  However, because an administrative complaint tends to be less factually specific and formal, the administrative answer is also less formal.  Comparatively, a judicial proceeding answer is tightly formatted and most answers merely admit or deny the allegations of the complaint.


Procedure up to trial and/or public hearing also varies between judicial and administrative proceedings.  While the forms of discovery, such as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and requests to admit can be similar in both proceedings, there can be subtle differences in these discovery requests that can vary from administrative agency to administrative agency because each administrative agency often has its own set of procedural rules.   In a judicial proceeding, these discovery requests and responses tend to be similar as there is only one set of procedural rules governing judicial proceedings.  Another difference between administrative and judicial proceedings arises in the context of deposing witnesses.  While depositions of witnesses are common in judicial proceedings, in certain administrative proceedings there are no depositions at all.


Finally, the actual trial or hearing of an administrative or judicial proceeding tends to be different.  Administrative hearings tend to be less formal, both structurally and in terms of evidence.  Judicial hearings tend to be more form centered and the rules of evidence are always applicable.  However, the end result of both an administrative or judicial proceeding is still the same:  the judge makes a determination in favor of one party or the other which can, ultimately, be appealed further up the chain.


Attorneys at Lavelle Law, Ltd. have extensive experience in both administrative and judicial proceedings.  If you have any question regarding how to proceed in either of these types of proceedings, feel free to give us a call for a free consultation.