Sample Law Essay Paper on Relationship between the Doctrines of Primary Jurisdiction & Exhaustion

Primary jurisdiction
The doctrine of primary jurisdiction is applied when a justiciable matter, while it can be
addressed by the court, may in fact be better addressed in the first instance by an administrative
body. 1 It gives courts the leeway to dismiss claims without prejudice, or stay proceedings
awaiting resolution of the issues by competent administrative agencies. 2 Dismissal is however
subject to the parties not being unfairly disadvantaged. 3 This is not to mean that the court is
obligated to secure agency expertise every time it confronted with issues of a technical nature.
Neither does it mean that the court lacks jurisdiction, as was reiterated in Reiter v. Cooper, in
which the respondents were held to have misconstrued the meaning of the doctrine. 4 According
to Cox, the doctrine has been historically used to hogtie the “plenary power” doctrine and justify
watered-down review of administrative actions. 5 Formally however, the primary jurisdiction
doctrine is meant to promote better relationships between the judiciary and specialist
administrative agencies charged with specific regulatory duties. It lends credence to the
legitimacy of administrative agencies while maintaining links to administrative review. Courts
will therefore often refrain from deciding on controversial issues that fall within the jurisdiction
of administrative agencies until such agencies have ruled on the issues. For example, in F.P.
Corp. v. Tamarkin Co the district court granted a motion to refer a matter back to Interstate
Commerce Commission (ICC) because of its close linkage with an ongoing matter being handled
by the ICC at the time. 6
1 Aaron J. Lockwood, ‘The Primary Jurisdiction Doctrine: Competing Standards of Appellate Review’ (WASH. &LEE L.
REV, 2007) Pp.708
2 Clark v. Time Warner Cable, 523 F. 3d 1110 – 2008
3 Carnation Co. v. Pacific Westbound Conference, 383 U.S. (1966)
4 Reiter v. Cooper, 507 U.S. 258 (1993)
5 Adam B. Cox, ‘Deference, Delegation And Immigration Law’ (University of Chicago, 2008) Pp.1672

Exhaustion of administrative remedies
This doctrine requires litigants to exhaust all available administrative remedies available before
moving on to seek judicial review. If relief is available through an administrative agency, the
courts will typically refer the matter to the agency. As such, courts will often dismiss claims on
the grounds of prematurity where such claims could have been addressed by an administrative
tribunal or body. 7 The exhaustion requirement is premised on the principle that appellate courts
do not consider issues not raised before trial courts. Therefore the same must apply in relation to
decisions by administrative bodies. For example, a student cannot make a discrimination claim in
court against a school if the school has a review board designed to handle such matters first. In
Thomas v. Barnhart, the claimant’s social security benefits action failed on finding that the
review body’s decision (ALJ) was not complete at the time the claim was brought and that the
claimant could have sought a similar judgment before the ALJ. 8 This principle serves a legitimate
state interest in that it avoids overworking the courts by preventing them from considering issues
that can be resolved through administrative channels.
Relationship between the two principles
In administrative law, the doctrine of exhaustion may be used to reinforce the principle under
primary jurisdiction. By requiring complete administrative exhaustion, the courts reinforce the
legitimacy and authority of administrative agencies over certain issues hence augmenting
primary jurisdiction. While there is some averment to exhaustion under Section 10 of the
Administrative Procedure Act and section 15 of the Revised Model Administration Act as well
6 Supra, note 4
7 Marcia Gelpe, ‘Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: The Lesson from Environmental Cases’ (George
Washington Law Review, 1985) Accessed from
8 Thomas v. Barnhart, 469 F. Supp. 2d 228 2007)

as other pieces of state and federal legislation, primary jurisdiction is not statutorily provided
for. 9 Rather, primary jurisdiction has traditionally been judge-made. That is to say, primary
jurisdiction is usually a case-by-case determination while exhaustion of administrative remedies
is a matter of statute. However, the circumstances under which primary jurisdiction is enforced
should be clearly set out to avoid irreparable jurisdictional damage.

9 Gene Duncan, ‘Primary Jurisdiction and Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies’ (Wyoming Law Journal, 2018)