Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, N.C
In Anderson v. City of Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 105 S. Ct. 1504, 84 L. Ed. 2d 518 (1985), the Supreme Court articulated general principles that govern the exercise of an appellate court's power to overturn factual findings under the clearly erroneous standard.
First, "a finding is clearly erroneous when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Id. at 573.
Appellate courts must, however, carefully heed any such "firm conviction."
In particular, despite an appellate court's conviction that it would have weighed the evidence differently had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it may not reverse a district court's findings when they are based on a plausible account of the evidence considered against the entirety of the record. Id.
In other words, when "two permissible views of the evidence exist, the fact finder's choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous." Id.
In Anderson v. City of Bessemer, N.C., U.S. 105 S.Ct. 1504, 1512, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985), a Title VII sex discrimination case, the Supreme Court cautioned appellate courts as to the general principles governing the exercise of an appellate court's power to overturn findings of a district court.
The foremost of these principles is that "a finding is 'clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 68 S.Ct. 525, 542, 92 L.Ed. 746 (1948).
"If the district court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, the court of appeals may not reverse it even though convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently." Anderson, 105 S.Ct. at 1512.
In Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, North Carolina, 470 U.S. 564, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985), the trial court had made a series of factual findings from which it concluded the female candidate for Recreation Director was skipped over for the job due to her gender, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit, after giving "close scrutiny of the record," Anderson, 470 U.S. at 571, 105 S.Ct. 1504, made findings contrary to those of the trial court: the court of appeals found that the female candidate was not, in fact, the most qualified candidate, and that, according to its own weighing of the evidence, the selection committee had not been biased against the candidate because she was a woman. Thus, the appellate court held the district court's factual findings were clearly erroneous, and reversed.
Considering the analyses of both the trial court and the appellate court, the Supreme Court concluded that "each has support in inferences that may be drawn from the facts in the record" and neither was "illogical or implausible." Id. at 577, 105 S.Ct. 1504.
Because all the reasons for appellate court deference to trial court factual findings frame the proper issue as whether the trial court's findings-not the appellate court's-were clearly erroneous, the Court held the court of appeals had erred in concluding the trial court's findings were clearly erroneous; the appellate court's contrary findings were just as much a "permissible" view of the evidence as the trial court's. See id. at 574, 105 S.Ct. 1504.
In Anderson v. Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 573-575, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 1511-12, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985), the Supreme Court mandated "special deference" to such findings, citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a): "Findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses."
Such findings shall be respected by a court of appeals unless "clearly erroneous." In explicating this phrase the Court said:
This standard plainly does not entitle a reviewing court to reverse the finding of the trier of fact simply because it is convinced that it would have decided the case differently. The reviewing court oversteps the bounds of its duty under Rule 52(a) if it undertakes to duplicate the role of the lower court. Id. at 573, 105 S.Ct. at 1511.