Standards of Review on Appeal – Administrative Agencies

This post finishes up the discussion on standards of review — how much deference the appellate courts pay to the rulings being appealed. Earlier posts discussed de novo  review for questions of law, the any evidence review of factual findings in actions at law, the preponderance review for factual findings in actions in equity, and the abuse of discretion review for most pre-trial and trial rulings.

This post covers appeals from administrative agencies, particularly the Workers Compensation Commission. As with trial courts, the Commission’s legal conclusions are reviewed de novo. Grant v. Grant Textiles, 372 S.C. 196, 200-201, 641 S.E.2d 869, 871 (2007).

The Commission’s factual findings are reviewed for “substantial evidence.” This substantial evidence standard forbids judicial fact-finding or substituting judicial judgments for the agency’s judgment. Review is limited to whether reasonable minds could reach the conclusion that the agency reached: “Substantial evidence is not a mere scintilla of evidence, but evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion the agency reached.” Holmes v. Nat’l Serv. Ind., Inc., 395 S.C. 305, 308-309, 717 S.E.2d 751, 752 (2011).

The same standard applies when reviewing an Administrative Law Judge’s factual findings. Hill v. South Carolina Dep’t of Health and Envtl. Control, 389 S.C. 1, 698 S.E.2d 612 (2010).

As I explained in an earlier post, a Workers Compensation appeal that I argued earlier this year turned on whether the issue raised involved a question of law or an issue of fact. I argued from the record that de novo review applied because the Commission misconstrued and misapplied a statute. The Court of Appeals considered the issue as an issue of fact and deferred to the Commission as the fact-finder.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? We would love to hear from you. You may reach me at



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