S.V. v. Department of Children and Families, 2015 WL 4095258 (Fla. 3rd DCA)

Father petitioned for writ of certiorari regarding a review of a trial court order that set aside a magistrate’s recommendation for reunification and denied Father’s motion for reunification. The  Third District Court of Appeal (Third DCA) denied Father’s petition .

Citing Cerase v. Dewhurst, 935 So. 2d 575 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006), the Third DCA noted that when a trial court reviews the recommendations of a magistrate, the trial court takes on the role of an appellate court. The trial court’s review of such recommendations is limited to determining whether the findings of fact are supported by competent evidence and whether the magistrate made clearly erroneous legal conclusions or misconceived the legal effect of the evidence. The Third DCA’s certiorari review is limited to whether the trial court departed from the “essential requirements of the law in conducting its review,” which resulted in irreparable harm that cannot be remedied by direct appeal.

In the instant case, because the facts were undisputed, the trial court focused its review on the whether the magistrate misconceived the legal effect of the evidence. In a “painstakingly analyzed” sixteen-page order, the trial court concluded that the magistrate misapplied the law. The Third DCA distinguished Cerasa, where the Third DCA reversed the trial court finding that the trial court incorrectly reweighed the evidence. In Cerase, the Third DCA exercised appellate review rather than certiorari review. The Third DCA also found that the trial court in the instant case applied the correct legal standards when it rejected the magistrate’s recommendation based on the magistrate misconceiving the legal effect of the evidence. In Cerasa, the trial court solely substituted its judgment for that of the magistrate.