Standards of Review in the Appellate Courts

Starting this month, we will be addressing the “standards of review” relied upon by the appellate courts in reviewing the different types of orders and decisions issued by the trial courts. The different standards of review are as follows:

A. Presumption of Correctness
B. Review of Factual Decisions
C. Review of Legal Decisions
D. Review of Discretionary Decisions
E. Standard of Review for Petition for Certiorari
F. Standard of Review in Administrative Appeals
G. Other Principles Pertinent to Standard of Review

A. Presumption of Correctness

1. Every judgment or decree rendered by the lower court is clothed with a presumption of correctness, and the burden rests on the complaining party to demonstrate reversible error. United American Lien and Recovery Corp. v. Primicerio, 924 So.2d 848 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006); Applegate v. Barnett Bank of Tallahassee, 377 So.2d 1150 (Fla. 1979).

2. There is an exception to the presumption of correctness that applies when a trial judge has declared a state law unconstitutional. In such a case, the law, and not the decision under review, is presumed valid. Florida Dept. of Business and Professional Regulation v. Gulfstream Park Racing Ass’n., Inc., 967 So.2d 802 (Fla. 2007).

3. If there is no transcript of a hearing in which the trial judge determined controlling issues of fact, the appellate court must affirm the judgment under review. Bank One, Corp. v. Bornschein, 987 So.2d 172 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008).

4. While the general rule is that the appellate court must affirm in the absence of a record, the court can reverse a judgment that is fundamentally erroneous even if there is no record. See Reed v. Reed, 914 So.2d 26 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) (error on the face of the order); Dorsett v. Dorsett, 902 So.2d 947 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) (error on the face of the judgment).

5. It is well settled that the appellate court will affirm an order of a lower court consistent with any theory revealed by the record, regardless of the reasons stated in the order under review. See Arthur v. Milstein, 949 So.2d 1163 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (“tipsy coachman” doctrine permits an appellate court to affirm a trial court that reaches the right result, but for the wrong reasons, so long as there is any basis in the record which would support the judgment); Malu v. Security Nat. Ins. Co., 898 So.2d 69 (Fla. 2005) (same).

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