Standards of Review in the Appellate Courts (continued – Section C)

C. REVIEW OF LEGAL DECISIONS

1. When an order under review rests purely on legal matters, that order is subject to full, or de novo, review on appeal. See Germ v. St. Luke’s Hosp. Ass’n, 993 So.2d 576 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008); Smith v. Coalition to Reduce Class Size, 827 So.2d 959 (Fla. 2002) (review of trial court’s application of law is de novo). Under this standard, the appellate court makes its own determination as to the correct principle of law to be applied to a particular set of facts. While the appellate court may presume that the trial court’s decision is correct, the presumption is easily overcome by a showing that an erroneous principal of law was applied.

2. De novo review simply means that the appellate court is free to decide a question of law, without deference to the trial judge, as if the appellate court had been deciding the question in the first instance. See Burzee v. Park Avenue Ins. Agency, Inc., 946 So.2d 1200 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006); Del Rio v. City of Hialeah, 904 So.2d 484 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005).

3. Examples of decisions subject to de novo review:

a. Frye issue

Trial court’s ruling on admissibility of expert opinion testimony, which is based on underlying novel scientific principle or technique, is reviewable as a matter of law under de novo standard of review — and not abuse of discretion standard. Marsh v. Valyou, 977 So.2d 543 (Fla. 2007). NOTE: General rule is that trial court’s admissibility of expert testimony is subject to abuse of discretion standard.

b. Sufficiency of pleadings and motions

(1) Rulings on motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action reviewable under de novo standard. Goodall v. Whispering Woods Center, L.L.C., 990 So.2d 695 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008); Jimenez v. Community Asphalt Corp., 968 So.2d 668 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007).

(2) Trial court’s characterization of debt action as a compulsory counterclaim presents pure issue of law subject to de novo review. Whigum v. Heilig-Meyers Furniture, Inc., 682 So.2d 643 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996).

(3) But see Stranahan House, Inc. v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 967 So.2d 427 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (where trial court dismisses complaint for declaratory judgment, the standard of review is abuse of discretion).

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