Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Georgia Appellate Standards of Review

In researching standards for a recent appeal, I was surprised to find that the Georgia Court of Appeals has reorganized its website.  Now, the “standard of review,” for each type of claim is clearly stated on its website.   While the criminal standards go on for pages, I post below only the civil standards. 

Appellant Standards of Review – Georgia:

Selection of jurors. Reviewed for abuse of discretion but trial court is no longer permitted to rehabilitate jurors by using "loaded" questions to justify retaining biased jurors. Walls v. Kim, 250 Ga. App. 259 (549 SE2d 797) (2001).
Discovery rulings. Control over discovery including the imposition of sanctions is reviewed for "clear abuse of discretion." Time Warner Entertainment Co. v. Six Flags Over Georgia, 245 Ga. App. 334, 350 (3) (b) (537 SE2d 397) (2000).
Decision to bifurcate trial. Reviewed for clear and manifest abuse of discretion. Whitley v. Gwinnett County, 221 Ga. App. 18, 19 (2) (470 SE2d 724) (1996).
Evidentiary ruling. Decision to admit or exclude evidence including relevant evidence is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Dept of Transp. v. Mendel, 237 Ga. App. 900, 902 (2) (517 SE2d 365) (1999).
Qualification of witness as expert. Ruling will not be disturbed absent manifest abuse of discretion. Williamson v. Harvey Smith, Inc., 246 Ga. App. 745, 749 (5) (542 SE2d 151) (2000).
Construction of a contract. Reviewed de novo on appeal. Question of law for the trial court unless after the application of the rules of construction, the contract remains ambiguous. Sagon Motorhomes v. Southtrust Bank of Ga., N.A., 225 Ga. App. 348, 349 (484 SE2d 21) (1997).
Denial of motion for mistrial. Reviewed for abuse of discretion. Whitley v. Gwinnett County, 221 Ga. App. 18, 25 (11) (470 SE2d 724) (1996).
Submission of special verdict form to jury. Reviewed for abuse of discretion. Southern Water Technologies v. Kile, 224 Ga. App. 717, 719 (1) (481 SE2d 826) (1997).
Grant of summary judgment. On appeal of a grant of summary judgment, the appellate court must review the evidence de novo to determine whether the trial court erred in concluding that no genuine issue of material fact remains and that the party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rubin v. Cello Corp., 235 Ga. App. 250 (510 SE2d 541) (1998).
Denial of motion for directed verdict. On appeal, the standard of review of the trial court's denial of a motion for directed verdict is the "any evidence" standard. F.A.F. Motor Cars v. Childers, 181 Ga. App. 821 (1) (354 SE2d 6) (1987).
Directed verdict or judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The standard of review of a directed verdict and a judgment n.o.v. is the same: a directed verdict is appropriate only when there is no conflict in the evidence as to any material issue, and the evidence introduced, construed most favorably to the party opposing the motion, demands a particular verdict. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Meeks, 270 Ga. 136, 137 (1) (508 SE2d 646) (1998).
Denial of judgment n.o.v. The standard of appellate review for the denial of a motion for judgment n.o.v. is the "any evidence" test. Under this test, the determinative question is not whether the verdict and the judgment of the trial were merely authorized, but whether a contrary judgment was demanded. Signsation, Inc. v. Harper, 218 Ga. App. 141, 142 (2) (460 SE2d 854) (1995).
Motion for directed verdict/motion for new trial. Both as to a motion for directed verdict and motion for new trial based on the general grounds, the proper standard on appellate review is the "any evidence" test. The court construes the evidence most favorably towards the party opposing the motion. Jordan v. Stephens, 221 Ga. App. 8, 10 (2) (470 SE2d 733) (1996).
Jury verdict. After approval of a jury verdict by the trial court, the judgment entered thereon will not be disturbed on appeal if supported by any evidence, in the absence of any material error of law. Horan v. Pirkle, 197 Ga. App. 151, 153 (2) (397 SE2d 734) (1990).
Validity of verdicts. Since there is a presumption in favor of the validity of a verdict, all the evidence and every presumption and inference arising from the evidence must be construed most favorably toward upholding the verdict. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Wiley, 220 Ga. App. 442, 443 (2) (469 SE2d 302) (1996).
In the absence of legal error, an appellate court lacks jurisdiction to interfere with a verdict supported by some evidence even when the verdict may be against the preponderance of the evidence. Jeff Goolsby Homes Corp. v. Smith, 168 Ga. App. 218, 219 (1) (308 SE2d 564) (1983).
Motion for new trial. The grant or denial of motion for new trial is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed if there is "any evidence" to authorize the trial court's ruling. Professional Consulting Svcs. of Ga. v. Ibrahim, 206 Ga. App. 663, 665 (1) (426 SE2d 376) (1992).
In reviewing an order on a motion for new trial, appellate courts do not weigh the evidence or give an opinion on where the greater weight of the evidence lies but determine merely whether the record contains sufficient evidence to authorize the trial court's judgment. Milam v. Attaway, 195 Ga. App. 496, 497 (1) (393 SE2d 753) (1990).
Bench trials. The trial court's factual findings will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, meaning that they will not be disturbed when there is any evidence to sustain them. Sam's Wholesale Club v. Riley, 241 Ga. App. 693 (527 SE2d 293) (1999).
Trial court's findings of fact. Reviewed under clearly erroneous standard. City of McDonough v. Tusk Partners, 268 Ga. 693, 696 (492 SE2d 206) (1997).
Question of law. De novo or independent review on appeal. Since no deference is owed to the trial court's ruling on a legal question, the "plain legal error" standard of review is applied. Suarez v. Halbert, 246 Ga. App. 822, 824 (1) (543 SE2d 733) (2000).
Damage awards. A reviewing court will not interfere with a jury's award of damages unless the amount is so small or so excessive that it justifies an inference of gross mistake or undue bias. Green v. Proffitt, 248 Ga. App. 477, 478 (1) (545 SE2d 623) (2001).
FELA damages. The jury's determination of FELA damages is otherwise inviolate, absent an award so excessive or inadequate as to shock the judicial conscience and raise an irresistible inference that passion, prejudice or another improper cause invaded the trial. Norfolk Southern R. Co. v. Jones, 219 Ga. App. 602, 608 (4) (a) (466 SE2d 260)(1995).
Attorney fees under OCGA § 13-6-11. Reviewed under the any evidence standard. City of Warner Robins v. Holt, 220 Ga. App. 794, 796 (1) (470 SE2d 238) (1996).
Attorney fees under OCGA § 9-15-14. Under subsection (a), reviewed under the any evidence standard. Under subsection (b), reviewed for abuse of discretion. Bankhead v. Moss, 210 Ga. App. 508, 509 (1) (436 SE2d 723) (1993).
Motion to open default. Reviewed for abuse of discretion, meaning that the trial court's ruling will stand unless there is no evidence to support a finding that the statutory grounds set forth in OCGA § 9-11-55 were met. K-Mart Corp. v. Hackett, 237 Ga. App. 127, 128 (1) (514 SE2d 884) (1999).

Hugh Wood, Esq.
Wood & Meredith, LLP
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Atlanta (Tucker), GA 30084
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Phone: 404-633-4100
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