15 Sep 23

Responding to Federal Hearing Subpoenas in Administrative Proceedings

| by

Last Updated on: 2nd October 2023, 05:51 pm

Responding to Federal Hearing Subpoenas in Administrative Proceedings

Receiving a subpoena to appear at a federal hearing can be an intimidating and confusing experience. However, with some basic knowledge about administrative proceedings and your rights and responsibilities, you can effectively respond to a federal subpoena.

What is a Federal Hearing Subpoena?

A federal hearing subpoena is an official demand that requires you to appear and give testimony at a formal hearing held by a federal agency or commission. Subpoenas are issued under the authority of federal statutes and agency regulations. Some examples of federal agencies that can issue hearing subpoenas include:

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

Federal agencies hold hearings for various reasons, such as investigating violations of laws or regulations, resolving disputes between private parties, or issuing licenses and permits. The agency sends you a subpoena because it believes you may have testimony or evidence relevant to the issues in the hearing.

Being Served with a Federal Hearing Subpoena

For a subpoena to be valid, you must be properly served according to the agency’s rules. Usually, a process server, U.S. Marshal, or other authorized person will hand you the subpoena documents in person. However, agencies’ rules may allow other service methods, such as delivery to your home, certified mail, or even email.

The subpoena should include certain information, such as the name of the agency and docket number, the date, time and location of the hearing, the name of the official who issued it, and instructions on how to challenge or appeal the subpoena.

Complying with a Federal Hearing Subpoena

In most cases, you are legally required to comply with a properly served federal hearing subpoena. This means showing up at the hearing on the date and time listed and answering the agency’s questions fully and truthfully.

If you fail to comply, the agency can pursue sanctions against you, such as civil contempt orders, fines, or imprisonment. However, there are some valid reasons for not complying with a subpoena:

  • The subpoena is improperly served
  • The subpoena requires you to travel more than 100 miles from your home or work
  • You have a valid legal basis for refusing to answer certain questions or provide certain documents

In these situations, you may be able to get the subpoena quashed (cancelled) by filing a motion with the presiding hearing officer or federal court.

Your Rights When Complying with a Federal Hearing Subpoena

Even if you must comply with a federal hearing subpoena, you still have certain rights, including:

  • Right to counsel – You can have a lawyer represent and advise you before, during, and after the hearing.
  • Right against self-incrimination – You can refuse to answer any questions where the answers might incriminate you in criminal activity.
  • Right to review documents – You have the right to inspect any documents the agency provides you in advance, so you can prepare for questioning about them.
  • Right to hearing fees – If compliance will cost you substantial time or money, you may request the agency provide hearing fees to compensate you.

Additionally, while the agency can require you to appear at the hearing, in some cases you may be allowed to testify by phone, videoconference, or written statements and affidavits.

How to Challenge or Appeal a Federal Hearing Subpoena

If you have valid reasons for not complying with a federal hearing subpoena, you can challenge or quash the subpoena by filing a motion with the presiding hearing officer. Grounds for quashing a subpoena may include:

  • Improper service
  • Unreasonable travel requirements
  • Privileged information
  • Unnecessary, irrelevant, or unduly burdensome requests

The hearing officer will review your motion and make a determination on whether the subpoena should be quashed. If they deny your motion, you can appeal the decision by filing a petition in federal district court under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Seeking Legal Help Responding to a Federal Hearing Subpoena

The laws around federal hearing subpoenas can be complex. Consider consulting a lawyer experienced with federal agencies to protect your rights and interests. An attorney can help you:

  • Determine if the subpoena is valid and properly served
  • File a motion to quash an improper subpoena
  • Prepare for the hearing by reviewing documents and possible questions
  • Assert your testimonial rights at the hearing
  • Appeal any orders compelling you to testify or produce documents

With proper legal guidance, you can respond appropriately to a federal hearing subpoena and minimize any disruptions or burdens it may cause you.


U.S. Department of Justice. Administrative Subpoenas.

American Bar Association. Know Your Rights When Complying with an Agency Subpoena.