Just how de novo is de novo review? The Third District Court of Appeal has warned that de novo review does not mean that appellants can ignore the trial court ruling altogether. In Vineyard Area Citizens v. City of Rancho Cordova, the Court of Appeal acknowledged that in a CEQA case it reviews the agency’s action, not the trial court’s ruling. That does not mean, however, that the trial court’s decision is irrelevant. “Treating de novo review as if the trial court’s ruling in a CEQA case is merely a ticket of admission to the Court of Appeal improperly denigrates the trial court’s role.”
So, just what does that mean in practice? How will the court treat the trial court ruling? The Court of Appeal in this case is instructing appellate counsel to treat the trial court ruling with respect. The court quotes from the trial ruling in the decision and almost treats it as a “super amicus” in the case. Appellate counsel should confront the rationale and conclusions of the trial court in their argument to Court of Appeal. Treat the trial court decision as something similar to an amicus brief from the Attorney General – entitled to respect, but not deference.