Exhaustion of remedies is a legal doctrine applied extensively in Administrative Law. “Exhaustion of administrative remedies” requires a person to seek all remedies directly with an agency before a suit will ever be heard by a state or federal court. Once the agency’s own procedures are finished—i.e., filing a petition, going to a hearing, filing an internal appeal— or otherwise “exhausted,” then the aggrieved person can file a complaint in state or federal court. But the doctrine of exhaustion of remedies prevents parties from seeking relief in the courts first.
In cases involving the judicial review of an administrative agency’s decision, a party is required to exhaust its administrative remedies prior to seeking judicial review. This is true whether or not a party files a petition for writ of administrative mandate,[i] challenging a quasi-judicial decision of the agency, or a petition for writ of traditional mandate,[ii] seeking to compel an agency to perform a ministerial duty or legal obligation.
This doctrine has two main purposes:
(1) It favors administrative autonomy and judicial efficiency. Courts should not interfere with an agency determination until the agency has reached a final decision. And overworked courts should decline to intervene in an administrative dispute unless absolutely necessary.[iii]
(2) It permits the agency to resolve factual issues, to apply its own specialized expertise, to achieve statutorily delegated remedies, and to help mitigate damages.[iv]
While there are exceptions to the requirement of exhausting administrative remedies, the burden of proving the exceptions would be on the moving party and failure to exhaust could lead to dismissal of any writ petition you file. Thus, it is risky to not know all of your available administrative remedies and then potentially get a writ petition dismissed for failure to exhaust your remedies. Your options should always be explored extensively in matters involving potential judicial review of an administrative agency’s decision.
It is also important to seek out an experienced attorney who specializes in writ proceedings and administrative law.