SOAH: State Office of Administrative Hearings
SOAH: Basic Background
“SOAH" is an acronym for the State Office of Administrative Affairs. It was created by the Texas Legislature in 1991 through Senate Bill 884. At the time, its purpose was to hold administrative hearings for state agencies that did not employ hearings officers. It had a staff of six Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and three support staff in Austin.
Since that time, the scope of SOAH’s responsibilities and duties has significantly expanded. Today, the headquarters are in Austin, but there are seven field offices and thirty-one remote sites throughout Texas. It has a staff of approximately 60 ALJs plus support staff. SOAH’s purpose has expanded to resolve disputes between state agencies or other governmental entities and the people, businesses or industries that they regulate.
SOAH: Types of Cases
SOAH resolves a fairly broad range of case types. They are divided into seven divisions:
Administrative License Revocation (ALR) and Field Enforcement Team. This SOAH team of ALJs handles driver’s license suspension cases, cases regarding children and elderly adults referred by the Department of Family and Protective Services, cases referred by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), and cases referred by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Team. This SOAH team handles mediations referred by state agencies or whose contested cases are referred to mediation, binding arbitrations and hearings in contract claims cases. A few examples of such matters are mediation of disciplinary actions against a doctor, certain arbitrations in nursing home enforcement cases, and contract claims against units of the state government.
Economic Team. This SOAH team handles a wide range of economic issues, including denials of disability and retirement benefits, hearings regarding highways and motor vehicles, child support enforcement cases, workers’ compensation, unregistered securities dealers, and so forth.
Licensing and Enforcement Team. This SOAH team handles disciplinary proceedings against licensed medical professionals (including medical doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, podiatrists, physical therapists, physician assistants, optometrists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and emergency medical technicians); professional licensees (including accountants, veterinarians, educators, architects, surveyors, appraisers, engineers, geoscientists, and law enforcement officers); nursing homes and related providers; child or adult day care facilities; occupational licensees (including air conditioning and refrigeration contractors, plumbers, electricians, cosmetologists, barbers, auctioneers, property tax consultants, transportation service providers, water well drillers and pump installers, etc.); and so forth.
Natural Resources Team. This SOAH team handles hearings referred by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQA), and enforcement cases referred by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).
Tax Team. This SOAH team handles a wide variety of disputes under the Texas tax and property codes.
Utility Team. This SOAH team handles case referred by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Commission on State Emergency Communications.
SOAH: Who Decides the Cases
SOAH is headed by a Chief Administrative Law Judge (CLJ) that is appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Texas Senate. The Chief Administrative Law Judge is the head of the agency. (S)he handles SOAH’s governance and acts as its executive director in charge of day-to-day operations. There have been three Chief Administrative Law Judges: Steven L. Martin (appointed by Governor Ann Richards), Sheila Bailey Taylor (appointed by Governor George W. Bush), and Cathleen Parsley (appointed by Governor Rick Perry).
SOAH decisions are made by ALJs, not juries. They work under the CLJ. By statute, ALJs must be licensed Texas attorneys.
To learn more about SOAH, click here.