Submitted November 29, 2017
OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
From Orangeburg County The Honorable Peter R. Nuessle, Family
Charles H. Williams, of Williams & Williams, of
Orangeburg, Donald Bruce Clark, of Charleston, and James B.
Richardson Jr., of Columbia, for Petitioners.
Michael Taylor, of Taylor/Potterfield, of Columbia, and Peter
George Currence, of McDougall, Self, Currence & McLeod,
of Columbia, for Respondent.
each seek a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the
court of appeals in Stoney v. Stoney, 417 S.C. 345,
790 S.E.2d 31 (Ct. App. 2016). In Stoney, the court
of appeals directed the family court judge to conduct a new
trial after holding the judge abused his discretion or
otherwise erred in regards to multiple issues. Finding error
in the standard of review applied by the court of appeals, we
grant the petitions, dispense with further briefing, reverse
the court of appeals, and remand the case to the court of
appeals to decide the appeal applying the appropriate
standard of de novo review articulated in Lewis v.
Lewis, 392 S.C. 381, 709 S.E.2d 650 (2011).
Lewis, this Court extensively analyzed the
applicable standard of review in family court matters and
reaffirmed that it is de novo. We noted that, while the term
"abuse of discretion" has often been used in this
context, it is a "misnomer" in light of the fact
that de novo review is prescribed by article V, § 5 of
the South Carolina Constitution. See S.C. Const.
art. V, § 5 (stating in equity cases, the Supreme Court
"shall review the findings of fact as well as the law,
except in cases where the facts are settled by a jury and the
verdict not set aside").
observed that de novo review allows an appellate court to
make its own findings of fact; however, this standard does
not abrogate two long-standing principles still recognized by
our courts during the de novo review process: (1) a trial
judge is in a superior position to assess witness
credibility, and (2) an appellant has the burden of showing
the appellate court that the preponderance of the evidence is
against the finding of the trial judge.
current appeal, the court of appeals cited Lewis,
but it veered from a complete application of this benchmark.
The court of appeals repeatedly referenced an "abuse of
discretion" standard throughout its findings, which
culminated in a reversal and remand for a new trial on
numerous issues. As recognized by the parties, once the court
of appeals found error in one aspect of the family court
judge's ruling, it impacted other components, creating a
appellate courts have been citing Lewis for the
appropriate standard of review in family court matters since
its publication in 2011, there appears to be lingering
confusion over the actual implementation of this standard.
This is evidenced by the fact that in some decisions the
courts have cited Lewis while also simultaneously
referencing cases citing an abuse of discretion
standard. In addition, some attorneys continue to
cite an abuse of discretion standard in their briefs to this
Court. This trend is troubling in light of the fact that
application of the correct standard of review is often
crucial in an appeal. See Dorman v. Dep't of Health
& Envtl. Control, 350 S.C. 159, 565 S.E.2d 119 (Ct.
App. 2002) (highlighting the critical importance of a
court's standard for review). For these reasons, we
reiterate that the proper standard of review in family court
matters is de novo, rather than an abuse of discretion, and
encourage our courts to avoid conflating these terms in
appeals from the family court.
we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand
this case for consideration of the issues on appeal applying
the de novo standard.