Tuesday, January 08, 2008

On standards of review

In Evans v. Eaton Corp. Long Term Disability Plan, Judge Wilkinson wrote this on standards of review:

"The purpose of standards of review is to focus reviewing courts upon their proper role when passing on the conduct of other decisionmakers. Standards of review are thus an elemental expression of judicial restraint, which, in their deferential varieties, safeguard the superior vantage points of those entrusted with primary decisional responsibility. The clear error standard, for example, protects district courts’ primacy as triers of fact. See Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 574-75 (1985). AEDPA’s reasonableness standards protect state courts’ authority over state criminal convictions. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (2000). Chevron deference, like the Administrative Procedure Act’s arbitrary-and-capricious and substantial evidence standards, protects agencies’ authority in carrying out the missions for which they are created. See 5 U.S.C. § 706 (2000); Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 843 (1984). Rational basis review protects the political choices of our government’s elected branches. See FCC v. Beach Commc’ns, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 314 (1993) (calling the standard "a paradigm of judicial restraint"). And trust law, to which ERISA is so intimately linked, Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 110 (1989), uses the abuse of discretion standard to protect a fiduciary’s decisions concerning the trust funds in his care. See 3 Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 87 (2007).

The precise definitions of these various standards, the nuances separating them from one another, "cannot be imprisoned within any forms of words" for "we cannot escape, in relation to this problem, the use of undefined defining terms." Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 489 (1951) (Frankfurter, J.). But what these and other such standards share is the designation of a primary decisionmaker other than the reviewing court, and the instrument, deference, with which that primacy is to be maintained."

Then, he applied the standard of review to reverse the District Court's conclusion in an ERISA benefits case.

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