Chapter § 12.3 Legal Issues Are Reviewed De Novo



The mandate of the appellate courts is to decide the law, and appellate courts review rulings on pure questions of law "de novo." See, e.g., Town of Woodway v. Snohomish County, 180 Wn.2d 165, 172, 322 P.3d 1219 (2014). The "de novo" or "error of law" standard of review permits the appellate court to substitute its judgment for that of the decision maker whose decision is being reviewed. Skamania County v. Columbia River Gorge Comm'n, 144 Wn.2d 30, 42, 26 P.3d 241 (2001).

Questions of law subject to de novo review include the trial court's conclusions of law in a bench trial, whether a particular jury instruction correctly states the law, the proper construction of a contract or statute, the legal effect of a particular action, and the application of a statute to an undisputed set of facts. Questions of law include, for example, certified questions from federal courts, Bylsma v. Burger King Corp., 176 Wn.2d 555, 558, 293 P.3d 1168 (2013); issues of constitutionality and statutory construction, State v. Evans, 177 Wn.2d 186, 191, 298 P.3d 724 (2013); interpretation of court rules, Jafar v. Webb, 177 Wn.2d 520, 526, 303 P.3d 1042 (2013); application of court rules, Niccum v. Enquist, 175 Wn.2d 441, 446, 286 P.3d 966 (2012); whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction, ZDI Gaming, Inc. v. State ex rel. Wash. State Gambling Comm'n, 173 Wn.2d 608, 624, 268 P.3d 929 (2012); whether a clear public policy exists for purposes of a public policy wrongful discharge case, Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Mgmt. (Colo.) LLC, 171 Wn.2d 736, 756, 257 P.3d 586 (2011); interpretation of case law, State v. Willis, 151 Wn.2d 255, 261, 87 P.3d 1164 (2004); whether a particular action gives rise to a Consumer Protection Act violation, Sing v. John L. Scott, Inc., 134 Wn.2d 24, 30, 948 P.2d 816 (1997); whether a loan was primarily for business or consumer purposes in a usury case, Pacesetter Real Estate, Inc. v. Fasules, 53 Wn. App. 463, 471, 767 P.2d 961 (1989) (applying objective standard); whether an insurance policy is ambiguous, Farmers Ins. Co. v. Grelis, 43 Wn. App. 475, 477, 718 P.2d 812 (1986); and the construction of a contract when there is no disputed evidence concerning the parties' intent, Noble v. Ogborn, 43 Wn. App. 387, 390, 717 P.2d 285, review denied, 106 Wn.2d 1004 (1986).

The appellate court also reviews de novo any trial court determination that takes the decision of a case out of the jury's hands. Such...

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