The Office of the Ombudsman defines these standards in its Policies and Procedures Manual (§ 4040). The definitions provided here are paraphrased from that manual. In definitions with more than one bulleted term, only one needs to be established by investigation to find the complaint justified.
In an ombudsman investigation, "unreasonable" means that the agency:
- adopted and followed a procedure in managing a program that is inconsistent with, or fails to achieve, the purposes of the program;
- adopted and followed a procedure that defeats the complainant’s valid application for a right or program benefit; or
- placed the complainant at a disadvantage relative to all others through actions inconsistent with agency policy.
In an ombudsman investigation, "unfair" means that the agency:
- failed to provide the complainant adequate and reasonable notice of the matter at issue;
- did not give a person interested in a decision adequate opportunity to be heard or to secure full disclosure of the facts;
- allowed a decision to be made by someone biased or otherwise disqualified;
- acted without regard to pertinent facts, circumstances, testimony, evidence, or point of view of interested persons;
- did not disclose the reason for its decision or the evidence relied on in making it; or
- was inconsistent in its application of standards or principles in the making the decision.
Contrary to Law
In an ombudsman investigation, "contrary to law" means that the agency:
- did not comply with statutory or regulatory requirements;
- misinterpreted or misapplied a statute, regulation or comparable requirement;
- failed to follow common law doctrines; or
- failed to comply with court or administrative orders.
In an ombudsman investigation, "performed inefficiently" means the agency:
- exceeded a time limit established by law or by custom, good judgment, sound administrative practice, or decent regard for the rights or interests of the complainant or of the general public; or
- mishandled the decision-making process or the process of implementing an act or service through delay, "red tape," or by requiring an unreasonable and unnecessary amount of clarification from the complainant.
Abuse of Discretion
In an ombudsman investigation, "abuse of discretion" means that the agency:
- did not proceed according to law;
- based its decision on an erroneous choice of standards or principles;
- based its decision on considerations not supported by evidence;
- based its decision on considerations that are not relevant; or
- made a decision that is clearly contrary to the reasonable inferences or deductions to be made from the evidence.
In an ombudsman investigation, "arbitrary" means that the agency:
- did not base its action or decision on intelligible or understandable public policies;
- based its action or decision on a delegation of authority to the agency under inadequate standards. (standards are "inadequate" if they are unrelated to the fundamental purposes of the program or statute under which the action or decision is taken);
- treated the complainant differently than others without reasons recognized under law or related to the purpose of the law; or
- did not conscientiously consider all factors relevant to its decision or action.
Unsupported by an Adequate Statement of Reasons
In an ombudsman investigation, "unsupported by an adequate statement of reasons" means the agency:
- did not address the complainant’s concerns in the decision directly and completely;
- did not plainly state the rule of law on which its decision is based;
- presented insufficient support for its factual assertions and legal conclusions;
- provided incomprehensible reasons for its action; or
- failed to include appropriate documentation with its decision.
In an ombudsman investigation, "performed discourteously" means an agency employee failed in a duty owed to the public, was negligent, or acted rudely or discourteously. (Since this standard alleges individual misconduct, the ombudsman refers complaints under it to the employing agency and rarely investigates them.)
In an ombudsman investigation, "unnecessarily discriminatory" means that the agency:
- discriminated against the complainant for reasons the legislature or a similar body could not have intended to make relevant, or
- discriminated against the complainant for reasons not reasonably required to achieve its purpose.
In an ombudsman investigation, "oppressive" means the agency:
- imposed unreasonable or unjust preconditions on the complainant;
- imposed an unequal burden on the complainant compared to the benefit received; or
- placed the complainant at a disadvantage relative to all others, and the disadvantage is unreasonable.
Based on Irrelevant Grounds
In an ombudsman investigation, "based on irrelevant grounds" means that the agency based its decision on information or factors that have no bearing on the matter under consideration.
This is the "other" category. It is rarely used.