We have for review the following question certified to be of great public importance:
See Haines City Community Dev. v. Heggs, 647 So.2d 855, 857 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994). We have jurisdiction, article V, section 3(b)(4), Florida Constitution, and answer the certified
This case originates from a final judgment entered in county court in favor of petitioner Haines City Community Development, d/b/a Parkview Village (Parkview), evicting the respondent Leila Heggs for non-payment of rent. Upon appeal, the circuit court reversed the county court's judgment. Parkview then sought common-law certiorari review of the circuit court's order in the Second District Court of Appeal, which denied the petition upon the authority of Combs v. State, 436 So.2d 93 (Fla. 1983). The district court expressed some concern, however, about the prevailing law defining the standard of review of a district court when reviewing an appellate decision of a circuit court. The court was particularly concerned that we may have recently adopted a different standard for review of administrative proceedings, and it was unclear if the standard was intended to supplant the Combs standard.
LAW & ANALYSIS
History of Common-Law Writ of Certiorari in Florida
Legal historians have told us that the English common-law writ of certiorari was an original writ issuing out of chancery or the King's Bench, directing that an inferior tribunal return the record of a pending cause so that the higher court could review the proceedings. George E. Harris, A Treatise on the Law of Certiorari § 1 (1893). The use of the writ was continued in the American courts, both state and federal. A more recent treatise defines certiorari as a discretionary writ issued by an appellate court to a lower court in cases where an appeal or writ of error was unavailable, directing that the record of the lower court be provided for review to determine whether the lower court has exceeded its jurisdiction or not proceeded according to law. 3 Fla.Jur.2d Appellate Review § 456 (1978).
Id. at 305. In 1882, in an opinion which retains its currency and whose clarity remains a hallmark, we defined the writ in more precise terms:
Basnet v. City of Jacksonville, 18 Fla. 523, 526-27 (1882); see also Edgerton v. Mayor of Green Cove Springs, 18 Fla. 528 (1882).
In Basnet and its progeny we refined the nature and scope of certiorari. We described certiorari as appellate in character in the sense that it involves a limited review of the proceedings of an inferior jurisdiction. Basnet, 18 Fla. at 527. "It is original in the sense that the subject-matter of the suit or proceeding which it brings before the court are not here reinvestigated, tried and determined upon the merits generally as upon
In Jacksonville, T. & K.W. Railway Co. v. Boy, 34 Fla. 389, 393, 16 So. 290, 291 (1894), we reviewed a circuit court decision affirming a county court judgment, and, while repeating certain language from Basnet, we also stated that we have the power to review and quash, on common-law certiorari, the proceedings of an inferior tribunal when it proceeds without jurisdiction or when its procedure is illegal, unknown to the law, or essentially irregular. Id. at 392, 16 So. 290. Further, in examining the scope of review in other states, we endorsed the practice in Illinois where the superior court determines "whether the inferior court had jurisdiction, or had exceeded its jurisdiction, or had failed to proceed according to the essential requirements of the law." Id. at 393, 16 So. 290 (emphasis added). In conclusion, we found that "[t]he judgment of affirmance in the record before the Circuit Court was such an essential irregularity and departure from prescribed rules of procedure in such cases as to require that it be quashed, and a judgment will therefore be entered accordingly." Id. at 396, 16 So. 290.
In Mernaugh v. City of Orlando, 41 Fla. 433, 27 So. 34 (1899), this Court explicitly incorporated the "essential requirements of law" language into our standard:
Id. at 442, 27 So. 34 (emphasis added).
CONSISTENCY IN APPLICATION
It has been correctly noted that despite the announcement of a narrow standard of review, the scope of substantive review by certiorari actually applied was often, for all practical purposes, fully as broad as review by appeal. William H. Rogers & Lewis Rhea Baxter, Certiorari in Florida, 4 U.Fla.L.Rev.
Despite this "all over the waterfront" picture, some opinions should be noted for their tight and lucid language in capturing the essence of the appropriate use of the writ. In State v. Smith, 118 So.2d 792 (Fla. 1st DCA 1960), Judge Wigginton explained:
Id. at 795 (footnote omitted) (emphasis added).
In 1985, Chief Justice Boyd also captured the essence of the standard:
In Combs v. State, 436 So.2d 93 (Fla. 1983), this Court held that the district court had applied too narrow a certiorari standard of review. Melvin Combs was convicted in county court of driving while intoxicated. At trial, Combs claimed that certain statements he made at the accident scene were privileged. The county court rejected the claim, and, on appeal after conviction, the circuit court affirmed. In denying certiorari, the district court stated that its review was limited to: "violations which effectively deny appellate review such as a circuit judge rendering a decision without allowing briefs to be filed and considered, a circuit judge making a decision without a record to support the decision or the circuit court dismissing an appeal improperly." Combs v. State, 420 So.2d 316, 317 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982) (citation omitted). In rejecting this scope of review as too narrow, we acknowledged that application of the phrase "departure from the essential requirements of law" had generated much confusion. Combs, 436 So.2d at 95. We attributed the confusion mainly to the difficulty encountered by the courts in maintaining the distinction between certiorari review and the standard used in reviewing legal error on appeal.
In an effort to clarify the certiorari standard, we elaborated on the meaning and boundaries of "departure from the essential requirements of law":
Combs, 436 So.2d at 95-96 (emphasis added) (citations omitted). We concluded in Combs that the district court reached a correct result, albeit for the wrong reason, in denying certiorari, despite its use of an erroneous standard of review. Id. at 96.
Educational Development Center
The case of Education Development Center v. City of West Palm Beach, 541 So.2d 106 (Fla. 1989), unlike Combs, began in an administrative agency — a zoning board of appeals. Further, in contrast to Combs, we held that the district court had applied too broad a standard of review.
In Education Development Center [hereinafter EDC], the petitioner sought permission from the Zoning Board of Appeal (Board) to convert its residential property to a private preschool and kindergarten. The Board denied EDC's application and EDC appealed to the circuit court. The circuit court reversed, and concluded there was "substantially competent evidence" to support EDC's application as required by the zoning code. Subsequently, the district court granted the Board's petition for certiorari, and found that the circuit court had applied an incorrect standard of review.
On remand and reconsideration, the circuit court again reversed the zoning board decision, this time finding that "there was no substantial competent evidence to support the City's denial of the petition." Id. at 108. Upon a second review in the district court, the circuit court's decision was again quashed, based upon the district court's disagreement with the trial court as to the existence of substantial competent evidence to support the Board's decision.
In our review of EDC, we relied on City of Deerfield Beach v. Vaillant, 419 So.2d 624, 626 (Fla. 1982), to define the district court's standard of review, and stated:
541 So.2d at 108-09.
Combs and EDC
To some extent Combs and EDC may be viewed as the bookends of appellate certiorari review, one pointing out an overly strict standard, while the other quashes the use of an overly broad standard. However, both decisions mandate a narrow standard of review and emphasize that certiorari should not be utilized to provide "a second appeal."
In Combs we held that a district court's review of an appellate circuit court decision should determine whether there was a "departure from the essential requirements of law." We emphasized that there must be "a violation of a clearly established principle of law resulting in a miscarriage of justice." On the other hand, EDC held that a district court's review of an appellate circuit court's decision which reviewed an administrative agency decision should consider whether the "circuit court afforded procedural due process and applied the correct law." Accordingly, the question becomes whether these
Vaillant illustrates the relationship of these standards. In Vaillant, we agreed with the decision and rationale of the Fourth District which reviewed the case before it came to us. 419 So.2d at 626. The district court had determined that procedural due process was afforded and that essential requirements of the law were observed. We actually held, however, that a district court, upon review of a circuit court's judgment, determines whether the circuit court "afforded procedural due process and applied the correct law." Id. (emphasis added). When the above two standards are juxtaposed, we conclude that "applied the correct law" is synonymous with "observing the essential requirements of law." See, e.g., Manatee County v. Kuehnel, 542 So.2d 1356, 1358 (Fla. 2d DCA) (holding that when district court reviews decision of circuit appellate court standard of review is whether court afforded procedural due process and observed essential requirements of law), review denied, 548 So.2d 663 (Fla. 1989). Therefore, when the Combs and EDC standards are reduced to their core, they appear to be the same. Moreover, we can see no justifiable reason for adopting different standards for district court review in such cases.
Common-law certiorari has been made available to review quasi-judicial orders of local agencies and boards not made subject to the Administrative Procedure Act when no other method of review is provided. See De Groot v. Sheffield, 95 So.2d 912 (Fla. 1957). If the administrative action was initially reviewable by certiorari to the circuit court, the district court then has jurisdiction to review the circuit court's decision by a second petition for writ of certiorari. Phillip J. Padovano, Florida Appellate Practice § 3.7 (1988) (citing Tomeu v. Palm Beach County, 430 So.2d 601 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983)). However, certiorari in circuit court to review local administrative action under Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.030(c)(3) is not truly discretionary common-law certiorari, because the review is of right. Vaillant, 419 So.2d at 625-26; see also EDC, 541 So.2d at 108. In other words, in such review the circuit court functions as an appellate court, and, among other things, is not entitled to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the agency. See EDC, 541 So.2d at 108.
As a case travels up the judicial ladder, review should consistently become narrower, not broader. We have held that circuit court review of an administrative agency decision, under Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.030(c)(3), is governed by a three-part standard of review: (1) whether procedural due process is accorded; (2) whether the essential requirements of law have been observed; and (3) whether the administrative findings and judgment are supported by competent substantial evidence. Vaillant, 419 So.2d at 626. The standard of review for certiorari in the district court effectively eliminates the substantial competent evidence component. The inquiry is limited to whether the circuit court afforded procedural due process and whether the circuit court applied the correct law. As explained above, these two components are merely expressions of ways in which the circuit court decision may have departed from the essential requirements of the law. In short, we have the same standard of review as a case which begins in the county court. See William A. Haddad, "Writ of Certiorari in Florida," in The Florida Bar, Florida Appellate Practice § 18.3 (3d ed. 1993).
This standard, while narrow, also contains a degree of flexibility and discretion.
The district court's opinion in this case is an excellent example of the correct application of the limited standard of review available to litigants after they have had the benefit of an appeal in the circuit court. The district court opinion noted:
Heggs, 647 So.2d at 856. This analysis captures the essence of our holdings in Combs and EDC.
We answer the certified question in the affirmative and hold that the standards of review announced in Combs and Educational Development Center are the same. We approve the decision below.
It is so ordered.
GRIMES, C.J., and OVERTON, SHAW, KOGAN, HARDING and WELLS, JJ., concur.
While we agreed that the trial judge erred in permitting the police officer to be questioned concerning unrelated reprimands, we did not believe it rose to the level of being a departure from the essential requirements of law:
Id. at 254 (footnote omitted).
City of West Palm Beach v. Education Dev. Ctr., 504 So.2d 1385, 1386 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987).
City of W. Palm Beach v. Education Dev. Ctr., 526 So.2d 775, 777 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988).
Haddad, supra, at 228.