The days of governmental agencies or regulatory boards issuing decisions without providing any reasoning may be nearing an end. The Illinois Appellate Court for the Fourth District recently clarified in Medina Nursing Center, Inc. v. The Health Facilities and Services Review Board that governmental agencies or regulatory boards must provide a basis for their decisions.1 In short, the long-overdue question of whether a party with the right to administrative review must receive meaningful administrative review has been answered: It must, and that does not occur when the governmental agency or regulatory board does not provide a basis for its decision. (Duane Morris represented plaintiffs Medina Nursing Center, Inc., Alpine Fireside Health Center, Ltd. and Fairview Nursing Plaza, Inc. in this case.)
Medina challenged the decision of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board ("Board") to approve the construction of a new long-term care facility. The Board considered the project and, without engaging in any discussion resolving the shortcomings of the project or addressing the issues raised in opposition, approved it in a meeting that lasted less than 10 minutes. The Board then issued a form letter, stating that the project was in "substantial compliance" with Board regulations; however, the form letter did not state with which regulations the project complied or on what basis the Board found substantial compliance. The Medina plaintiffs' challenge to the Board's approval of the project was that it was impossible to discern the reasoning of the Board. The circuit court denied the plaintiffs' complaint for administrative review and rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that they had been deprived of meaningful administrative review.
The Illinois Appellate Court disagreed and held that "the robotic declaration of 'substantial conformance … ' is worthless for purposes of judicial review. The Board might just as well say, 'Application Approved.'" The Appellate Court further held that it could not fulfill its legislative mandate to conduct administrative review without written findings by the administrative agency. The Court observed that Appellate Courts "provide reasons for our decisions, a salutary practice that not only helps the public to have confidence in what we do but also guards against arbitrariness."2 Concluding that "judicial review is impossible without a reasoned explanation," the Appellate Court vacated the circuit court's decision and remanded the case to the Board to provide, in writing, a reasoned explanation for its decision, complete with findings and conclusions.
The decision in Medina can be applied to the decision of any governmental agency or regulatory board that is subject to administrative review. Moreover, because the Medina decision was decided by the Fourth District, which includes Springfield, it will be binding on many governmental agencies and regulatory boards, which are based in Springfield. Within one week of the Medina decision being issued, two Board decisions have already been remanded back to the Board to comply with the requirements of Medina. Transparency resulting in increased confidence in the government process would be a welcome addition in Illinois.