I’m a sucker for a good standard of review.

As the Curmudgeon likes to say, the standard of review decides cases.

And sometimes, unfortunately, that standard of review is abuse of discretion. See, e.g., John Crane, Inc. v. Jones, 650 S.E.2d 851 (2007) (affirming trial court’s exercise of discretion; accidentally starting inexorable urban legend about expert disclosures).

What do you do with that? When a decision is “committed to the sound discretion of the trial court,” after all, it kind of sounds like the trial court can go either way. It can grant or deny the motion, admit or exclude the evidence.

That does not translate well into “reversible error.” You really only get so much leeway to kvetch about trial management.

That’s exactly why I always like a good treatment of abuse-of-discretion review.

Justice Goodwyn delivers one in AME Financial Corp. v. Kiritsis, Record No. 091244, handed down in March of this year. (Important note for appellants–the Court winds up affirming the circuit court.)

Here is a quick summary of what the Court had to say about abuse of discretion:

  • An appellate court should not simply rubber-stamp every discretionary trial court ruling. It has an obligation to review the record and to reverse the trial court if it finds a clear abuse of discretion.
  • Whether a trial court has abused its discretion is a fact-specific question.
  • In evaluating whether a trial court has abused its discretion, the appellate court does not substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. Instead, it considers only whether the record fairly supports the trial court’s action.
  • Abuse-of-discretion review also includes review to ensure that the trial court’s decision was not guided by erroneous legal conclusions.

There’s enough useful stuff in there to draw the sting from the standard of review in most cases.

Finally, I was in Richmond yesterday to watch Monica’s argument in Campbell County v. Royal, as well as the argument in the fascinating new noncompete case, Home Paramount Pest Control. It was great to see everyone in Richmond. Sorry it’s taken me so long to update the blog.