Clearly Erroneous

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The “clearly erroneous” standard is a standard of review in civil appellate proceedings. The Supreme Court stated that “a finding is ‘clearly erroneous’ when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” In other words, the appellate court must determine that a finding is unsupported by substantial, credible evidence in the record to meet this standard.

Questions of fact are reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard. When the appellate court determines that a lower court’s finding of fact is clearly erroneous, the appellate court may reverse that finding. This standard is only applied to fact finding by judges. This standard is considered to have minimal deference to the fact finder. Because finding of facts are made based on evidentiary hearings and usually involve credibility determinations, these findings are reviewed deferentially. Compare de novo and substantial evidence standards.

For example, Rule 52(a)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a District Court’s finding of fact not be aside unless “clearly erroneous” in an action tried on the facts without a jury.

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]