Circuit Courts Must Apply Deferential Standard of Review to Administrative Agency Decisions

When circuit courts review administrative decisions, they must defer to the adminsitrative agency and set aside the agency’s decision only if the decision was not supported by substantial evidence, the agency’s actions were not reasonable, or the agency’s actions were not within its statutory and constitutional powers. Alabama State Personnel Board v. Dueitt, 2080899 (Ala. Civ. App. May 7, 2010).  In Dueitt, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed a circuit court opinion overruling an Alabama State Personnel Board decision because "the circuit court impermissibly reweighed the evidence and substituted its judgment regarding a question of fact for the judgment of the Board.".

 

The Court of Civil Appeals provided the following description of the standard of review:

"The standard of appellate review to be applied by the circuit courts and by this court in reviewing the decisions of administrative agencies is the same. See Alabama Dep’t of Youth Servs. v. State Pers. Bd., 7 So.3d 380, 384 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008). That prevailing standard is deferential toward the decision of the agency:

"Judicial review of an agency’s administrative decision is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence, whether the agency’s actions were reasonable, and whether its actions were within its statutory and constitutional powers. … Judicial review is also limited by the presumption of correctness which attaches to a decision by an administrative agency."

Alabama Medicaid Agency v. Peoples, 549 So.2d 504, 506 (Ala. Civ. App. 1989). Also, the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act provides that,

"[e]xcept where judicial review is by trial de novo, the agency order shall be taken as prima facie just and reasonable and the court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact, except where otherwise authorized by statute."

Ala. Code 1975, § 41-22-20(k). "Neither this court nor the trial court may substitute its judgment for that of the administrative agency." Alabama Renal Stone Inst., Inc. v. Alabama Statewide Health Coordinating Council, 628 So.2d 821, 823 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993) . "This holds true even in cases where the testimony is generalized, the evidence is meager, and reasonable minds might differ as to the correct result." Health Care Auth. of Huntsville v. State Health Planning Agency, 549 So.2d 973, 975 (Ala. Civ. App. 1989).

         Further, this court does not apply a presumption of correctness to a circuit court’s judgment entered on review of an administrative agency’s decision "because the circuit court is in no better position to review an agency’s decision than this court." Alabama Bd. of Nursing v. Peterson, 976 So.2d 1028, 1033 (Ala. Civ. App. 2007). Finally, in order for the Board’s decision to uphold the termination of an employee to warrant affirmance, that decision would have to be supported by "substantial evidence, " which in an administrative context is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would view as sufficient to support the determination." Ex parte Personnel Bd. of Jefferson County, 648 So.2d 593, 594 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994)."