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California Administrative Law

Information on locating California regulations, guidance, administrative decisions, and executive orders and proclamations online and at the UCLA Law Library.

Understanding Guidance

Guidance refers to any rules that agencies enforce without passing them through the formal notice-and-comment rulemaking process. Guidance may take many forms, including manuals, bulletins, notices, and opinion or advice letters.

In California, guidance is generally disfavored and members of the public may petition a special California agency called the Office of Administrative Law for underground regulation determinations ordering agencies to pass guidance through formal notice-and-comment.

Nevertheless, some agencies do produce guidance, including the Department of Insurance, Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, and all of the tax agencies. 

Understanding California Administrative Decisions

Administrative decisions are similar to court decisions but decided by agencies, rather than the courts.

Keep in mind these key points:

  • The administrative decision making process may range from formal, trial-like hearings that result in detailed written opinions, to informal meetings between affected individuals and agency staff that result in only short statements of what was decided. 
  • Most agencies do not systematically publish their decisions in print or make them searchable online, with a handful of exceptions such as the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and Public Employment Relations Board.
  • Most administrative decisions do not create binding precedent in the same way that court cases do. However, a few agencies do designate selected decisions as precedent. A handful of agencies, such as the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, have large, searchable collections of precedent decisions but most agency's precedent decisions consist of half a dozen or fewer decisions posted to their website.

More About California Administrative Decisions

The best starting point for learning more about the California administrative decision process is usually the agency's website and a practice guide or treatise in the relevant practice area. For example, consult Rassp & Herlick’s California Workers’ Compensation Law for information on appearing before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and California Public Sector Employment Law (Matthew Bender) for information on appearing before the Public Employment Relations Board. These sources will point you to any agency-specific statutes, regulations, or guidance documents that govern administrative decision making by that agency.

Additionally, a few sources provide useful overviews of the general California administrative decision making process.

The California practice guide publisher CEB provides guides to the California administrative hearing process and to the administrative mandamus (judicial review) process that are available in print at the library and as part of the CEB OnLaw and CEB Pro databases:

The Rutter California Practice Guide series includes a guide to administrative law that discusses both the administrative hearing process and the administrative mandamus process. The guide is available on Westlaw and in print at the UCLA Law Library:

The treatise Witkin on California Procedure discusses California administrative adjudication at Chapter XIV. Administrative Proceedings > III. Adjudication and is available in print at the library and on Lexis and Westlaw:

The California Jurisprudence encyclopedia discusses California administrative adjudication at Administrative Law > VII. Administrative Adjudication and is available in print at the library and on Lexis and Westlaw: