October 19, 2018

If substantial evidence supports the administrative tribunal's decision, a reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the tribunal


If substantial evidence supports the administrative tribunal's decision, a reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the tribunal
Haug v State Univ. of N.Y. at
Potsdam, 2018 NY Slip Op 06964,

In deciding Haug v State University of New York at Potsday [Potsdam], a case involving student discipline, the Court of Appeals commented on some issues relevant to the  standard of proof required to support an administrative tribunal's decision.

The Appellate Division had concluded that Potsdam's determination was not supported by substantial evidence and vacated its decision. The Court of Appeals disagreed,*explaining:

1. Upon judicial review, the Appellate Division "must accord deference to the findings of the administrative decision-maker" noting that "neither the Appellate Division nor the Court of Appeals has power to upset the determination of an administrative tribunal on a question of fact;" and

2. Courts have no right to review the facts generally as to weight of evidence beyond seeing to it that there is substantial evidence.

The substantial evidence standard is a minimal standard said the court, requiring only that a given inference be reasonable and plausible, "not necessarily the most probable." In other words, said the Court of Appeals, "[r]ationality is what is reviewed under the substantial evidence rule" and substantial evidence is "such relevant proof as a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support a conclusion or ultimate fact."

Further, the court opined, "[w]here substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency, even if the court would have decided the matter differently" and if substantial evidence supports the administrative decision being challenged, that determination must be sustained "irrespective of whether a similar quantum of evidence is available to support other varying conclusions."

In addition, the Court of Appeals noted that hearsay is admissible as competent evidence in an administrative proceeding, "and if sufficiently relevant and probative may constitute substantial evidence even if contradicted by live testimony on credibility grounds."

Ultimately, said the court, it was the province of Potsdam to resolve any conflicts in the evidence and make credibility determinations and ruled that the Appellate Division had improperly engaged in a re-weighing of the evidence when it substituted its own factual findings for those made by Potsdam. It then reversed the Appellate Division's order and remitted the matter it "for consideration of issues raised but not determined on the appeal."

* Judge Fahey dissented, stating that he would have sustained the majority opinion of the Appellate Division.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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