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Office of Administrative Law Judges (ALJ)

If a person or company is unable to settle a dispute that involves a possible violation of the Shipping Act, that person or company may file a complaint. The complaint will be referred to the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ). A complaint involving claims of $50,000 or less may be handled by a settlement officer for resolution using informal procedures (46 CFR Part 502 Subpart S). Formal complaints are generally heard by an Administrative Law Judge.

Responsibilities of the Administrative Law Judges

  • Administrative Law Judges, or ALJs, are independent decision makers whose independence is protected by the Administrative Procedure Act.
  • Federal Maritime Commission ALJs resolve cases involving alleged violations of the Shipping Act and other laws within the Commission’s jurisdiction.
  • Cases may be initiated by private parties or by the Commission (represented by the Bureau of Enforcement).

Starting a Case

During the Case

  • The ALJ assigned to the case may issue a variety of orders. For example, the ALJ may issue a scheduling order providing deadlines to the parties or an order explaining how and when to submit evidence.
  • To ensure impartiality, ALJ-issued orders are sent to all parties in a case.
  • The parties may file motions which request the ALJ to take certain actions.
  • All motions and other papers (except subpoena requests) are filed with the Office of the Secretary which distributes them to the ALJs.
  • The parties are required to send motions or other papers to all other parties, except in certain situations such as requests for subpoenas.
  • A case may be decided after a hearing using the written record or the ALJ may hold a hearing, similar to a trial, where witnesses appear in person or virtually and give testimony under oath.

ALJ’s Initial Decision

  • The parties may settle the case between themselves. A settlement should be written and submitted to the ALJ for approval.
  • The ALJ will issue an initial decision approving a settlement or resolving a case by applying the law to the facts.
  • Exceptions to the ALJ’s initial decision may be made to the Commission by the parties within 22 days of the initial decision, or the initial decision may be reviewed by the Commission on its own motion.
  • The ALJ’s initial decision becomes administratively final 30 days after the date of issuance, if no appeal or review is requested.


Erin M. Wirth, Chief Administrative Law Judge
Phone: 202-523-5750
Fax: 202-566-0042
Email: judges@fmc.gov