Friday, August 29, 2014

6th Appellate District: Reversal for Wrong Standard Applied

In Rodriguez v. City of Santa Cruz, the Sixth Appellate District ruled against an order from the superior court denying a petition. The petition was filed by Josafat Rodriguez Jr., a former Santa Cruz police officer, who applied to the City of Santa Cruz for industrial disability retirement. He claimed a psychiatric disability due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After the City denied his application, he challenged the ruling by filing a "Petition for Writ of Mandate." This petition was subsequently denied by the superior court. In deciding against the court's ruling the appellate court held that the wrong standard of review had been applied.

The appellate court explained that in reviewing the City of Santa Cruz's decision, the trial court was required to use its independent judgment. This however, is not the standard that was actually applied. In lieu of applying its own independent judgment the court deferred to the findings of an Administrative Law Judge who decided on behalf of the City of Santa Cruz, that the petition was not credible and that his claim should be denied. In reviewing the statement of decision of the trial court, it was evident that instead of applying its own independent judgment, it rendered a decision on the grounds of its determination that there was sufficient evidence to support the Administrative Law Judge's finding. In addition the trial court failed to articulate its independent findings in regards to key issues.

Ultimately, the appellate court ruled that while referencing a standard of independent judgment, this standard was not actually applied when determining whether to grant Mr. Rodriguez's petition. For that reason the order denying the petition was ruled against. This ruling emphasizes the importance of applying and adhering to the proper standards, as it relates to review.