A.   Generally. 1


B.   De Novo. 2

1.   Questions of Law Reviewed De Novo. 2

2.   Mixed Questions of Law and Fact 3


C.   Clearly Erroneous 5


D.   Abuse of Discretion. 7


E.   Arbitrary and Capricious. 8

1.   Deference to Agency Interpretation of Statute or Regulation. 9

2.   Instances Where No Deference Warranted. 10

3.   Instances Where Less Deference May Be Warranted. 11


F.   Substantial Evidence. 11

1.   Agency Determinations. 12

2.   Jury Verdicts 13


G.   Reasonableness 13




A.      Generally

“The standard of review focuses on the deference an appellate court affords to the decisions of a District Court, jury or agency.”  Bennett Evan Cooper, Federal Appellate Practice: Ninth Circuit § 18:1 (2016-2017 Edition).  The proper standard of review is a question of federal procedure and is therefore governed by federal law.  See Freund v. Nycomed Amersham, 347 F.3d 752, 762 (9th Cir. 2003).  


“[D]ecisions by judges are traditionally divided into three categories, denominated questions of law (reviewable de novo), questions of fact (reviewable for clear error), and matters of discretion (reviewable for abuse of discretion).”  See Harman v. Apfel, 211 F.3d 1172, 1174 (9th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks and citation omitted).  The selection of the appropriate standard of review is contextual.  See United States v. Mateo-Mendez, 215 F.3d 1039, 1042 (9th Cir. 2000).  For example, the de novo standard applies when issues of law predominate in the district court’s decision.  Id.  When a mixed question of law and fact is presented, the standard of review turns on whether factual matters or legal matters predominate.  See id.; see also Holly D. v. California Inst. of Tech., 339 F.3d 1158, 1180 n.27 (9th Cir. 2003) (noting court would apply different standards of review depending on the district court’s intention); Navellier v. Sletten, 262 F.3d 923, 944 (9th Cir. 2001) (noting the “standard of review on appeal . . . depends on the nature of the claimed error.”). 


The standard of review may be critical to the outcome of the case.  See Dickinson v. Zurko, 527 U.S. 150, 152-61 (1999) (“The upshot in terms of judicial review is some practical difference in outcome depending upon which standard is used.”); see also Southwest Voter Registration Educ. Pro. v. Shelley, 344 F.3d 914, 917 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (per curiam) (noting “standard of review is important to our resolution of this case”); Krull v. SEC, 248 F.3d 907, 914 (9th Cir. 2001) (noting deferential standard of review “constrains us, even if we might decide otherwise were it left to our independent judgment”); Payne v. Borg, 982 F.2d 335, 338 (9th Cir. 1992) (“The relevant standards of review are critical to the outcome of this case.”); Walsh v. Centeio, 692 F.2d 1239, 1241 (9th Cir. 1982) (“[T]he outcome of the instant case turns on the standard of review . . . .”). 

In some cases, the court has elected not to decide which standard of review is applicable on the ground that the outcome would not be changed by applying different standards of review.  See, e.g., Courthouse News Serv. v. Planet, 750 F.3d 776, 783 (9th Cir. 2014); E.T. v. Cantil-Sakauye, 682 F.3d 1121, 1123 n.3 (9th Cir. 2012) (per curiam); United States v. Laurienti, 611 F.3d 530, 551 (9th Cir. 2010); United States v. Rivera, 527 F.3d 891,908 (9th Cir. 2008); United States v. Pimentel-Flores, 339 F.3d 959, 967 n.10 (9th Cir. 2003).


For further reading on standards of review generally, see Steven Alan Childress & Martha S. Davis, 1-1 Fed. Standards of Review § 1.01 (2016); Steven Alan Childress, Standards of Review Primer: Federal Civil Appeals, 229 F.R.D. 267 (2005).

B.      De Novo

De novo review means that this court views the case from the same position as the district court.  See Lawrence v. Dep’t of Interior, 525 F.3d 916, 920 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Lewis v. United States, 641 F.3d 1174, 1176 (9th Cir. 2011). The appellate court must consider the matter anew, as if no decision previously had been rendered.  See Freeman v. DirecTV, Inc., 457 F.3d 1001, 1004 (9th Cir. 2006).  Review is “independent,” see Agyeman v. INS, 296 F.3d 871, 876 (9th Cir. 2002), or “plenary,” see Stilwell v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 482 F.3d 1187, 1193 (9th Cir. 2007); United States v. Waites, 198 F.3d 1123, 1126 (9th Cir. 2000).  No deference is given to the district court.  See Barrientos v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 633 F.3d 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2011); Ditto v. McCurdy, 510 F.3d 1070, 1075 (9th Cir. 2007); Rabkin v. Oregon Health Sciences Univ., 350 F.3d 967, 971 (9th Cir. 2003) (“When de novo review is compelled, no form of appellate deference is acceptable.”).

1.       Questions of Law Reviewed De Novo

·        Mootness, ripeness, standing.  See Navajo Nation v. Dep’t of the Interior, No. 14-16864, 2017 WL 5986567, at *9 (9th Cir. Dec. 4, 2017) (standing); Bishop Paiute Tribe v. Inyo Cty., 863 F.3d 1144, 1151 (9th Cir. 2017) (ripeness, mootness); Sierra Forest Legacy v. Sherman, 646 F.3d 1161, 1176 (9th Cir. 2011); Wolfson v. Brammer, 616 F.3d 1045, 1053 (9th Cir. 2010); Porter v. Jones, 319 F.3d 483, 489 (9th Cir. 2003).

·        Statutory interpretation.  See United States v. Kelly, 874 F.3d 1037, 1046 (9th Cir. 2017); Schleining v. Thomas, 642 F.3d 1242, 1246 (9th Cir. 2011); Beeman v. TDI Managed Care Svcs., 449 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Vega v. Holder, 611 F.3d 1168, 1170 (9th Cir. 2010) (reviewing de novo BIA’s interpretation of statute, but explaining that “[i]f, however, Congress has not directly addressed the exact issue in question, a reviewing court must defer to the agency’s construction of the statute so long as it is reasonable.” (quotation marks and citation omitted)).

·        Contract interpretation.  See Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009); Milenbach v. Commissioner, 318 F.3d 924, 930 (9th Cir. 2003); but see Tyler v. Cuomo, 236 F.3d 1124, 1134 (9th Cir. 2000) (stating that the interpretation of a contract is a mixed question of law and fact reviewed de novo); see also Los Angeles Lakers, Inc. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 869 F.3d 795, 800 (9th Cir. 2017) (interpretation of state contract law). .

·        Constitutionality of statute.  See Kelly, 874 F.3d at 1046; United States v. Mohamud, 843 F.3d 420, 432 (9th Cir. 2016), petition for cert. filed, No. 17-5126 (June 14, 2017); United States v. Vongxay, 594 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2010); United States v. Bolanos-Hernandez, 492 F.3d 1140, 1141 (9th Cir. 2007).

·        Interpretation of federal rules.  See United States v. Urena, 659 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2011) (evidence); United States v. Alvarez-Moreno, 657 F.3d 896, 900 n.2 (9th Cir. 2011) (criminal procedure); Riordan v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins., 589 F.3d 999, 1004 (9th Cir. 2009) (civil procedure).

2.       Mixed Questions of Law and Fact

A mixed question of law and fact arises when the historical facts are established, the rule of law is undisputed, and the issue is whether the facts satisfy the legal rule.  See Pullman‑Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273, 289 n.19 (1982); see also In re Cherrett, 873 F.3d 1060, 1066 (9th Cir. 2017); Khan v. Holder, 584 F.3d 773, 780 (9th Cir. 2009); Suzy’s Zoo v. Commissioner, 273 F.3d 875, 878 (9th Cir. 2001) (stating that a mixed question “exists when primary facts are undisputed and ultimate inferences and legal consequences are in dispute”).  Mixed questions of law and fact generally require the consideration of legal concepts and the exercise of judgment about the values that animate legal principles.  See Smith v. Commissioner, 300 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2002).  “‘Mixed questions are typically reviewed de novo, but, depending on the nature of the inquiry involved, may be reviewed under a more deferential clearly erroneous standard.’ United States v. Lang, 149 F.3d 1044, 1047 (9th Cir. 1998), amended by 157 F.3d 1161 (9th Cir. 1998) (emphasis added).”  In re Cherrett, 873 F.3d 1060, 1066 (9th Cir. 2017); see also Mathews v. Chevron Corp., 362 F.3d 1172, 1180 (9th Cir. 2004); but see Haile v. Holder, 658 F.3d 1122, 1125 (9th Cir. 2011) (“We review … determinations of mixed questions of law and fact for substantial evidence.”).  Examples include: 


·        Whether ERISA fiduciary duties breached.  See Mathews, 362 F.3d at 1180.

·        Whether marital privilege waived.  See Feldman v. Allstate Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 660, 665 (9th Cir. 2003).

·        Whether taxpayer is a “producer.”  See Suzy’s Zoo, 273 F.3d at 878.

·        Whether suspect is in custody.  See United States v. Female Juvenile (Wendy G.), 255 F.3d 761, 765 (9th Cir. 2001).

·        Whether right to counsel waived.  See United States v. French, 748 F.3d 922, 929 (9th Cir. 2014); United States v. Hantzis, 625 F.3d 575, 579 (9th Cir. 2010); United States v. Percy, 250 F.3d 720, 725 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Sechrest v. Ignacio, 549 F.3d 789, 805 (9th Cir. 2008) (“Miranda claims present mixed questions of law and fact.”).

·        Whether reasonable suspicion exists.  See United States v. Jimenez-Medina, 173 F.3d 752, 754 (9th Cir. 1999). 

·        Whether district court erred by refusing to compel use immunity.  See United States v. Wilkes, 662 F.3d 524, 532 (9th Cir. 2011); United States v. Straub, 538 F.3d 1147, 1156 (9th Cir. 2008).

·        Whether exigent circumstances existed.  See United States v. Reilly, 224 F.3d 986, 991 (9th Cir. 2000).

·        Whether there was ineffective assistance of counsel in habeas corpus proceedings.  See Rhoades v. Henry, 638 F.3d 1027, 1034 (9th Cir. 2011).

·        Whether a constitutional error was harmless. See Petrocelli v. Baker, 869 F.3d 710, 722 (9th Cir. 2017 (as amended).

·        Whether there is probable cause to support the warrantless search of an automobile. See United States v. Faagai, 869 F.3d 1145, 1149 (9th Cir. 2017).

Note that “[f]actual findings underlying the district court’s ruling are reviewed for clear error.”  Wilkes, 662 F.3d at 532 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).  Furthermore, if, the application of the law to the facts requires an inquiry that is “essentially factual,” review is for clear error.  See Darensburg v. Metro. Transp. Comm’n, 636 F.3d 511, 518-19 (9th Cir. 2011) (“[M]ixed questions of fact and law are reviewed de novo, unless the mixed question is primary factual.”  (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); Zivkovic v. S. California Edison Co., 302 F.3d 1080, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Exxon Co. v. Sofec, Inc., 54 F.3d 570, 576 (9th Cir. 1995) (“This standard of review is an exception to the general rule that mixed questions of law and fact are reviewed de novo.”).  For example:


·        Whether proximate cause shown.  See Liebsack v. United States, 731 F.3d 850, 854 (9th Cir. 2013) (issue of proximate cause a question of fact reviewable for clear error); Harper v. City of Los Angeles, 533 F.3d 1010, 1027 n.13 (9th Cir. 2008).

·        Whether established facts constitute negligence.  See Sacks v. Commissioner, 82 F.3d 918, 920 (9th Cir. 1996).

·        Whether individual is “disabled” for purposes of  ERISA plan.  See Deegan v. Continental Cas. Co., 167 F.3d 502, 506 (9th Cir. 1999).

C.      Clearly Erroneous

A district court’s findings of fact are reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard.  See Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a)(6); United States v. Mercado-Moreno, 869 F.3d 942, 959 (9th Cir. 2017) (determination of the quantity of drugs involved in an offense); United States v. Cazares, 121 F.3d 1241, 1245 (9th Cir. 1997) (standard applied in both civil and criminal proceedings).  “Findings of fact are made on the basis of evidentiary hearings and usually involve credibility determinations, which explains why they are reviewed deferentially under the clearly erroneous standard.”  Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 n.4 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc).  Special deference is paid to a trial court’s credibility findings.  See Anderson v. City of Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985); Kirola v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 860 F.3d 1164, 1182 (9th Cir. 2017) (recognizing that trial court credibility findings are entitled to special deference, but remanding where district court approach was based on legal errors); McClure v. Thompson, 323 F.3d 1233, 1241 (9th Cir. 2003). 

          Review under the clearly erroneous standard is significantly deferential, requiring a “definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.”  See Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 242 (2001); United States v. Walter-Eze, 869 F.3d 891, 912 (9th Cir. 2017); United States v. Aubrey, 800 F.3d 1115, 1132 (9th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 1477 (2016); United States v. Torlai, 728 F.3d 932, 937 (9th Cir. 2013); Fisher v. Tucson Unified Sch. Dist., 652 F.3d 1131, 1136 (9th Cir. 2011); United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., 621 F.3d 1162, 1175 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc) (per curiam); see also Miller v. Thane Int’l, Inc., 519 F.3d 879, 888 (9th Cir. 2008) (concluding the district court clearly erred).  If the district court’s account of the evidence is plausible in light of the entire record, the court of appeals may not reverse, even if it would have weighed the evidence differently.  See Husain v. Olympic Airways, 316 F.3d 829, 835 (9th Cir. 2002); see also United States v. McCarty, 648 F.3d 820, 824 (9th Cir. 2011); Katie A., ex. Rel. Ludin v. Los Angeles County, 481 F.3d 1150, 1155 (9th Cir. 2007).  “Where there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder’s choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous.”  United States v. Elliott, 322 F.3d 710, 715 (9th Cir. 2003); see also United States v. Torlai, 728 F.3d 932, 937 (9th Cir. 2013); United States v. Al Nasser, 555 F.3d 722, 727 (9th Cir. 2009).


The court of appeals reviews for clear error where:


·        District court adopts proposed findings submitted by parties.  See Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 571‑73 (1985); see also Silver v. Executive Car Leasing Long-Term Disability Plan, 466 F.3d 727, 733 (9th Cir. 2006); Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Topworth Int’l, Ltd., 205 F.3d 1107, 1112 (9th Cir. 2000) (noting while review is for clear error, the reviewing court will review with “particularly close scrutiny” when findings are adopted).

·        Findings of fact are based on stipulations.  See Smith v. Commissioner, 300 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2002).  

·        Findings of fact are based solely on written record.  See L.J. v. Pittsburg Unified Sch. Dist., 850 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir. 2017) (“The district court’s findings of fact are reviewed for clear error, even when the district court based those findings on an administrative record, … .”); R.B., ex.rel. F.B. v. Napa Valley Unified School District, 496 F.3d 932, 937 (9th Cir. 2007); Amanda J. ex rel. Annette J. v. Clark County Sch. Dist., 267 F.3d 877, 887 (9th Cir. 2001).

·        Findings of fact after a bench trial.  See Huhmann v. Fed. Express Corp., 874 F.3d 1102, 1106 (9th Cir. 2017); Oswalt v. Resolute Indus., Inc., 642 F.3d 856, 859 (9th Cir. 2011); Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. v. Entertainment Distributing, 429 F.3d 869, 879 (9th Cir. 2005); Friends of Yosemite Valley v. Norton, 348 F.3d 789, 793 (9th Cir. 2003), clarified by 366 F.3d 731 (9th Cir. 2004) (order); see also Saltarelli v. Bob Baker Group Medical Trust, 35 F.3d 382, 384 (9th Cir. 1994) (“In reviewing a bench trial, this court shall not set aside the district court’s findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, unless they are clearly erroneous.”).

D.      Abuse of Discretion

“An abuse of discretion is a plain error, discretion exercised to an end not justified by the evidence, a judgment that is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts as are found.”  Rabkin v. Oregon Health Sciences Univ., 350 F.3d 967, 977 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also In re Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd., 642 F.3d 685, 698 n.11 (9th Cir. 2011).  Under the abuse of discretion standard, a reviewing court cannot reverse absent a definite and firm conviction that the district court committed a clear error of judgment in the conclusion it reached upon a weighing of relevant factors.  See Estate of Diaz v. City of Anaheim, 840 F.3d 592, 601 (9th Cir. 2016) (under abuse of discretion standard, the court reverses only when convinced that the reviewed decision lies beyond the pale of reasonable justification under the circumstances);  McCollough v. Johnson, Rodenburg & Lauinger, LLC, 637 F.3d 939, 953 (9th Cir. 2011); Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger, 599 F.3d 984, 988 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing SEC v. Coldicutt, 258 F.3d 939, 941 (9th Cir. 2001)); Harman v. Apfel, 211 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2000) (noting reversal under abuse of discretion standard is possible only “when the appellate court is convinced firmly that the reviewed decision lies beyond the pale of reasonable justification under the circumstances”).  The abuse of discretion standard requires an appellate court to uphold a district court determination that falls within a broad range of permissible conclusions.  See Hung Lam v. City of San Jose, 869 F.3d 1077, 1085 (9th Cir. 2017); Kode v. Carlson, 596 F.3d 608, 612-13 (9th Cir. 2010) (per curiam); Grant v. City of Long Beach, 315 F.3d 1081, 1091 (9th Cir. 2002), amended by 334 F.3d 795 (9th Cir. 2003) (order). 


A district court abuses its discretion when:


·        District court does not apply the correct law or rests its decision on a clearly erroneous finding of a material fact.  See Reed v. Lieurance, 863 F.3d 1196, 1208 (9th Cir. 2017) (district court abused discretion in excluding certain testimony); Jeff D. v. Otter, 643 F.3d 278, 283 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Casey v. Albertson’s Inc., 362 F.3d 1254, 1257 (9th Cir. 2004)).

·        District court rules in an irrational manner.  See Chang v. United States, 327 F.3d 911, 925 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Cmty. v. California, 618 F.3d 1066, 1084 (9th Cir. 2010) (concluding district court did not rule in an irrational manner). 

·        District court makes an error of law.  See Koon v. United States, 518 U.S. 81, 100 (1996); Strauss v. Comm’r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 635 F.3d 1135, 1137 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Koon); Forest Grove School Dist. v. T.A., 523 F.3d 1078, 1085 (9th Cir. 2008) (applying Koon); United States v. Martin, 278 F.3d 988, 1001 (9th Cir. 2002) (applying Koon).  Thus, the court abuses its discretion by erroneously interpreting a law, United States v. Beltran-Gutierrez, 19 F.3d 1287, 1289 (9th Cir. 1994), or by resting its decision on an inaccurate view of the law, Richard S. v. Dep’t of Dev. Servs., 317 F.3d 1080, 1085-86 (9th Cir. 2003).  See also Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 839 (2011) (recognizing trial court has wide discretion “but only when, it calls the game by the right rules”).

·        Record contains no evidence to support district court’s decision, see Oregon Natural Res. Council v. Marsh, 52 F.3d 1485, 1492 (9th Cir. 1995), or bases its ruling on a clearly erroneous assessment of evidence, see Am. Beverage Ass'n v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 871 F.3d 884, 889 (9th Cir. 2017).

E.      Arbitrary and Capricious

          Review of agency determinations is limited to whether the agency’s action was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law, or if it was taken without observance of procedure required by law.  5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A); see also Nat'l Mining Ass'n v. Zinke, No. 14-17350, 2017 WL 6327944, at *13 (9th Cir. Dec. 12, 2017); Barnes v. U.S. Dep’t of Transp., 655 F.3d 1124, 1132 (9th Cir. 2011) (“Review under the arbitrary and capricious standard is narrow, and we do not substitute our judgment for that of the agency.”); Gardner v. U.S. Bureau of Land Mgmt., 638 F.3d 1217, 1224 (9th Cir. 2011); City of Los Angeles v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, 307 F.3d 859, 874 (9th Cir. 2002).  An agency decision will be upheld as long as there is a rational connection between the facts found and the conclusions made.”  Barnes, 655 F.3d at 1132 (citing Siskiyou Reg’l Educ. Project v. U.S. Forest Serv., 565 F.3d 545, 554 (9th Cir. 2009)).


Under the arbitrary and capricious standard, a reviewing court must consider whether an agency’s decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment.  See Envtl. Def. Ctr., Inc. v. EPA, 344 F.3d 832, 858 n.36 (9th Cir. 2003).  The court may reverse only when the agency has relied on impermissible factors, failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence or is so implausible it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or to agency expertise.  See id.; County of Los Angeles v. Leavitt, 521 F.3d 1073, 1078 (9th Cir. 2008).  The standard is “highly deferential, presuming the agency action to be valid and affirming the agency action if a reasonable basis exists for its decision.”  See Ranchers Cattleman Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of Am. v. U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture, 499 F.3d 1108, 1115 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted); see also Sacora v. Thomas, 628 F.3d 1059, 1068 (9th Cir. 2010); Northwest Ecosystem Alliance v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 475 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2007); Arizona Cattle Growers’ Ass’n v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife, 273 F.3d 1229, 1236 (9th Cir. 2001) (court must determine whether the agency articulated a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made); Price Rd. Neighborhood Ass’n v. U.S. Dep’t of Transp., 113 F.3d 1505, 1511 (9th Cir. 1997) (court must consider whether the agency’s decision is based on a reasoned evaluation of the relevant factors).

1.       Deference to Agency Interpretation of Statute or Regulation

Generally, an agency’s interpretation of a statutory provision or regulation it is charged with administering is entitled to deference.  See Nat’l Mining Ass’n v. Zinke, No. 14-17350, 2017 WL 6327944, at *13 (9th Cir. Dec. 12, 2017) (agency’s interpretation of its organic statute, as well as of its own regulations, is entitled to deference); Biodiversity Legal Found. v. Badgley, 309 F.3d 1166, 1175 (9th Cir. 2002).[1]  However, this deference is not absolute.  See Nat’l Wildlife Federation v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Service, 524 F.3d 917, 931 (9th Cir. 2008) (explaining two-prong analysis used to determine whether agency’s construction of its own regulation is entitled to deference).

2.       Instances Where No Deference Warranted

·        Agency rests decision on misinterpretation of Supreme Court precedent.  See East Bay Automotive Council v. NLRB, 483 F.3d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 2007); Lucas v. NLRB, 333 F.3d 927, 931 (9th Cir. 2003).

·        Agency had no authority to act.  See Northern Plains Res. Council v. Fidelity Exploration and Dev. Co., 325 F.3d 1155, 1164 n.4 (9th Cir. 2003).

·        “Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue.” 

Cmty. Hosp. of Monterey Peninsula v. Thompson, 323 F.3d 782, 789 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

·        Agency is merely advancing litigation position, not an official interpretation of its regulation.  United States v. Trident Seafoods Corp., 60 F.3d 556, 559 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Do Sung Uhm v. Humana, Inc., 620 F.3d 1134, 1155-56 & n.34 (9th Cir. 2010); United States v. Able Time, Inc., 545 F.3d 824, 836 (9th Cir. 2008); Alaska v. Federal Subsistence Board, 544 F.3d 1089, 1095 (9th Cir. 2008).

·        Agency litigating positions are wholly unsupported by regulations, rulings, or administrative practice.  See Resources Invs., Inc. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, 151 F.3d 1162, 1165 (9th Cir. 1998).

·        “Radically inconsistent interpretations of a statute by an agency, relied upon in good faith by the public, do not command the usual measure of deference to agency action.”  Pfaff v. United States Dep’t of Housing & Urban Dev., 88 F.3d 739, 748 (9th Cir. 1996).

·        State agency interprets federal statute.  See Orthopaedic Hosp. v. Belshe, 103 F.3d 1491, 1495 (9th Cir. 1997); cf. JG v. Douglas Country School District, 552 F.3d 786, 798 n.8 (9th Cir. 2008) (stating that although a state agency’s interpretation of a federal law is not entitled to deference, the Secretary of Education’s approval of that agency’s interpretation is due some deference).

3.       Instances Where Less Deference May Be Warranted

·        Agency interpretation conflicts with agency’s earlier interpretation.  See Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Serv., 524 F.3d 917, 928, 933 (9th Cir. 2008); Young v. Reno, 114 F.3d 879, 883 (9th Cir. 1997); cf. Irvine Medical Ctr. v. Thompson, 275 F.3d 823, 831 n.6 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting agency is not required to establish rules of conduct that last forever); Queen of Angels/Hollywood Presbyterian Med. Ctr. v. Shalala, 65 F.3d 1472, 1481 (9th Cir. 1995) (noting an agency “is not disqualified from changing its mind”).

·        “[J]udicial deference is not necessarily warranted where courts have experience in the area and are fully competent to decide the issue.”  Monex Int’l, Ltd. v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n, 83 F.3d 1130, 1133 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). 

F.      Substantial Evidence

Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.  See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017); Gebhart v. SEC, 595 F.3d 1034, 1043 (9th Cir. 2010); Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2003).  The court of appeals must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the agency’s decision.  See Revels, 874 F.3d at 654; Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Int’l Union of Painter & Allied Trades v. J & R Flooring, Inc., 656 F.3d 860, 865 (9th Cir. 2011); Hawaii Stevedores, Inc. v. Ogawa, 608 F.3d 642, 652 (9th Cir. 2010) (“The ALJ is expected to consider the record as a whole, including all witness testimony and each medical report, before entering findings”).  The court must affirm where there is such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if it is possible to draw contrary conclusions from the evidence.  See Howard, 341 F.3d at 1011.[2]

1.       Agency Determinations

An agency’s factual findings must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence in the record.  See United States v. Eurodif S.A., 555 U.S. 305, 316 n.6 (2009); Dickinson v. Zurko, 527 U.S. 150, 152-61 (1999) (rejecting “clearly erroneous” standard and reaffirming substantial evidence standard of review for agency findings); Bonnichsen v. United States, 367 F.3d 864, 879-80 (9th Cir. 2004).[3]


Credibility determinations must be upheld unless they are “inherently or patently unreasonable,” Retlaw Broad. Co. v. NLRB, 53 F.3d 1002, 1006 (9th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation omitted), or not supported by specific, cogent reasons, see Manimbao v. Ashcroft, 329 F.3d 655, 658 (9th Cir. 2003); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998); DeLeon-Barrios v. INS, 116 F.3d 391, 393 (9th Cir. 1997).  See also Morgan v. Mukasey, 529 F.3d 1202, 1210 (9th Cir. 2008).

2.       Jury Verdicts

In a civil case, the court of appeals reviews a jury verdict to determine whether it is supported by substantial evidence.  See Hangarter v. Provident Life and Accident Ins. Co., 373 F.3d 998, 1008 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Flores v. City of Westminster, 873 F.3d 739, 751 (9th Cir. 2017) (reviewing jury verdict of compensatory damages); Engquist v. Oregon Dep’t of Agric., 478 F.3d 985, 993 (9th Cir. 2007).  Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as adequate to support a conclusion even if it is possible to draw a contrary conclusion from the evidence.  See Pavao v. Pagay, 307 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 2002); see also McCollough v. Johnson, Rodenburg & Lauinger, LLC, 637 F.3d 939, 955 (9th Cir. 2011); Harper v. City of Los Angeles, 533 F.3d 1010, 1021 (9th Cir. 2008).  Neither the trial court nor the appellate court may weigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses in determining whether substantial evidence exists.  See Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 856 (9th Cir. 1999); see also McCollough, 637 F.3d at 957; Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton, 212 F.3d 477, 482 (9th Cir. 2000) (“The credibility of witnesses is an issue for the jury and is generally not subject to appellate review.”).


In criminal cases, a jury verdict also must stand if it is supported by “substantial evidence.”  See, e.g., United States v. Hanna, 293 F.3d 1080, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002).  Again, substantial evidence is evidence which reasonable minds might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.  See United States v. Nordbrock, 38 F.3d 440, 445 (9th Cir. 1994).  

G.     Reasonableness

An agency action raising predominantly legal rather than factual issues may be reviewed under a reasonableness standard.  See, e.g., Idaho Sporting Congress, Inc. v. Rittenhouse, 305 F.3d 957, 964 (9th Cir. 2002); Ka Makani ‘O Kohala Ohana Inc. v. Water Supply, 295 F.3d 955, 959 (9th Cir. 2002).[4]  The reviewing court must determine whether the agency’s decision was a reasonable exercise of its discretion, based on consideration of relevant factors, and supported by the record.  See California v. FCC, 75 F.3d 1350, 1358 (9th Cir. 1996). 

“The scope of judicial review under this standard is narrow and an agency’s interpretation of its own policies and prior orders is entitled to deference.”  California v. FCC, 4 F.3d 1505, 1511 (9th Cir. 1993).  The court may, however, require the agency to provide a reasoned analysis.  See California v. FCC, 39 F.3d 919, 925 (9th Cir. 1994).  “Moreover, if the record reveals that the agency has failed to consider an important aspect of the problem or has offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before [it], we must find the agency in violation of the APA.”  Id. (internal quotations omitted). 


The reasonableness standard has been described as more rigorous than the arbitrary and capricious standard.  See, e.g., Ka Makani, 295 F.3d at 959 (describing reasonableness standard as “less deferential”).  “‘The Supreme Court has noted, however, that ‘the difference between the ‘arbitrary and capricious’ and ‘reasonableness’ standards is not of great pragmatic consequence.’” California v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 575 F.3d 999, 1011 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Marsh v. Or. Natural Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 377 n.23 (1989)).  This court has observed that “[t]he rule of reason analysis and the review for an abuse of discretion are essentially the same.”  See Kern v. U.S. Bureau of Land Mgmt., 284 F.3d 1062, 1072 (9th Cir. 2002).

[1]           See also United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 227-31 (2001) (explaining when deference is owed); Idaho Bldg. & Const. Trades Council, AFL-CIO v. Inland Pac. Chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors, Inc., 801 F.3d 950, 957 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We ‘defer to the NLRB's interpretation of the NLRA’ where, as here, ‘its interpretation is rational and consistent with the statute.’”); Wilderness Society v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., 353 F.3d 1051, 1059 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (explaining Mead deference), amended by 360 F.3d 1374 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc) (order); Pronsolino v. Nastri, 291 F.3d 1123, 1131-32 (9th Cir. 2002) (explaining levels of deference); Webber v. Crabtree, 158 F.3d 460, 461 (9th Cir. 1998) (per curiam) (“Although we accord a high degree of deference to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulation, that interpretation cannot be upheld if it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.”).


[2]        See also Allentown Mack Sales & Serv., Inc. v. NLRB, 522 U.S. 359, 366 (1998) (noting under the substantial evidence standard, the reviewing court “must decide whether on this record it would have been possible for a reasonable jury to reach the Board’s conclusion”); Gebhart v. SEC, 595 F.3d 1034, 1043 (9th Cir. 2010) (“If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the agency.”); Recon Refractory & Construction Inc., v, NLRB, 424 F.3d 980, 986 (9th Cir. 2005).

[3]        See also Melkonian v. Ashcroft, 320 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2003) (noting agency’s factual findings must be upheld “if supported by reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence in the record”).

[4]        See also Price Rd. Neighborhood Ass’n v. United States Dep’t of Transp., 113 F.3d 1505, 1508 (9th Cir. 1997); Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Ass’n v. Morrison, 67 F.3d 723, 727 (9th Cir. 1995).