Typically, proceedings at OATH take the form of a traditional trial, with the ALJ serving as the trier of fact. In some cases, however, such as watershed appeals, contact dispute appeals, and prequalified vendor appeals, the proceedings are more akin to an appellate process. That is, the case is decided on the basis of the existing record, and the parties do not submit new evidence except with the approval of the ALJ or, in the case of contract disputes, the three-member Contract Dispute Resolution Board (CDRB) panel.
In a recent watershed case, which is summarized in this issue of BenchNotes, a Sullivan County landowner was appealing the denial of a variance by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build a new home with an underground septic system. If a variance is denied by DEP, the landowner may either appeal to OATH or bring an Article 78 proceeding in state court. Since OATH functions as an appellate tribunal in these matters, the only issue before the ALJ is whether the DEP abused its discretion in denying the variance application. 15 RCNY § 18-28(d)(3).