When Does the State Office of Administrative Hearings Become Involved

All licensed professionals must follow the specific laws and rules that apply to their professions. Licensing boards and agencies monitor licensed professionals for compliance with those rules. Violations of rules and laws related to professional practices can lead to disciplinary complaints and sanctions that can adversely affect your career. In severe cases, you could even face a license suspension or revocation, which affects your ability to keep your job and support yourself. 

Although Texas licensing boards and agencies resolve most of their cases informally by agreement with the licensed professional, contested cases typically go to the State Office for Administrative Hearings (SOAH) for resolution. A Texas licensing board defense lawyer can represent your interests before SOAH and put you in the best position to handle the disciplinary proceedings against you. 

Referring Cases to SOAH

State licensing boards and agencies typically first attempt to resolve disciplinary complaints through agreements with the licensees who are the subject of the complaints. Then, a licensing board usually offers a proposed agreed-upon order to the licensee either after or during an informal settlement conference. Licensing boards resolve most disciplinary cases in this manner. 

However, if the parties cannot reach a mutually acceptable resolution, either party can request that the case proceed to a contested hearing. At that point, most Texas disciplinary cases proceed to the SOAH for an administrative hearing.

SOAH is a state agency consisting of neutral third-party decisionmakers who are not affiliated with the licensing agency. They operate a mediation program, which the parties may sometimes utilize. Still, most commonly, SOAH assigns an administrative law judge (ALJ) to the case to conduct an administrative hearing. In many ways, an administrative hearing is like a court trial, but the regular court rules do not apply. SOAH has its own set of procedural rules that differ markedly from regular court rules in some respects. Therefore, legal representation before SOAH can be crucial to ensure compliance with all pertinent rules. 

Before the SOAH Hearing

A contested case must proceed through various pretrial stages before the ALJ holds the administrative hearing. Each stage is crucial to properly preparing for the hearing. 


First, the parties engage in the discovery process as in a regular court trial. During discovery, the parties request and exchange certain information related to the evidence they intend to present at the hearing. Each party is entitled to know and possess that evidence before the hearing; when the hearing occurs, parties are not allowed to present “surprise” evidence they have not already disclosed to the other party. This exchange of information allows each party to fully prepare their side of the case and respond to the other party’s evidence. The ALJ will set deadlines for the parties to submit their discovery requests and answers to one another.

Discovery can take various forms. For instance, discovery is often documentary evidence. In the case of physician misconduct in a case involving the Texas Medical Board (TMB), evidence may include patient medical records, billing records, or other financial documents related to the practice. In a case involving allegations of criminal activity or substance abuse, documentary evidence could include a doctor’s substance abuse evaluation or treatment records, criminal court records, and drug testing results. 

Another common type of discovery is witness testimony. Parties must exchange a list of witnesses. A party can ask to conduct a deposition of one or more parties, which involves asking questions of the party while they are under oath. Depositions allow a party to know what to expect when the party testifies during the hearing. 

Pre-Hearing Motions

Some matters, such as issues related to the admission of evidence, must be resolved before the hearing occurs. Therefore, the ALJ will set deadlines for parties to file motions concerning these issues and for the other parties to respond. Sometimes, the ALJ will hold short hearings to hear the parties’ arguments on these motions. The ALJ will issue rulings on all relevant issues before the administrative hearing begins.


Although most cases go to SOAH because the parties have attempted to resolve the case informally but have been unable to, the parties can attempt to resolve contested disciplinary proceedings again through mediation. SOAH has a separate mediation program that assigns a mediator to the case. The mediator is a neutral third party (a non-presiding ALJ) who works with the parties to try and reach an agreed-upon resolution to the disciplinary case. If the parties cannot agree through mediation, SOAH will appoint an ALJ to the case, and a contested hearing will be held. The ALJ will differ from the person who acted as the mediator in the case. 

Administrative Hearings Before SOAH

Once the parties have completed all pretrial matters, the administrative hearing at SOAH will proceed. Both parties will present their cases, produce evidence, and question each other’s witnesses.

After hearing all the evidence in the case, the ALJ will issue a proposal for decision (PFD), which consists of findings of fact and conclusions of law. In most cases, the ALJ issues the PFD to the licensing board, which ultimately decides whether to accept, modify, or reject the PFD. 

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