Appellate Law FAQ
What is Appellate Law?
All cases begin in a trial court, and at some point, the case will end in the
trial court. Early in the litigation, the judge could dismiss the case, or a
final judgment could be entered after a full trial. But at some point, the
proceedings in the trial court will be concluded. At that point, a party unhappy
with the outcome (typically the losing side, but sometimes even the winning
side) can appeal.
An appeal typically begins with filing a notice of appeal in the trial court.
The party appealing -- known as the "appellant" -- must also designate an
appellate record. The appellate record consists of materials from the trial
court that the appellant would like to present to the appellate court and use in
What are some key requirements for appealing a decision?
1. Finality - Not every determination made by a judge is appealable. With few
exceptions, only final judgments, decisions that conclude the case in that court
once and for all, are appealable. If a particular decision was not final, it is
not time for an appeal.
Throughout the course of any civil trial, the trial judge may make numerous
decisions. The judge may rule on a motion to limit the scope of questions that
may be asked in a deposition. Or the judge may grant or deny a request that the
case be dismissed on the ground that there is insufficient evidence of
wrongdoing. Any court order that does not complete the case is not considered a
final order. For example, if the judge denies a motion to dismiss, the
proceedings will continue and the order denying the motion is considered an
interim order or interlocutory order, not a final order. Generally, interim or
interlocutory orders are not appealable. On the other hand, if the judge grants
the motion to dismiss the case, that order is final. A decision regarding the
subject matter of the case has been made: sufficient grounds do not exist for
the case to continue. The final decision (also called a final disposition, final
judgment, or final order) disposes of the case as far as that court is
Generally, a final decision is made after a hearing. The judge or jury has heard
all the evidence, and makes a decision. A finding that the plaintiff proved or
failed to prove his or her case ends the litigation at that stage. The final
order is appealable.
2. Timeliness - While a final decision is appealable; the right to appeal does
not last forever. Parties are bound to keep things moving along by exercising
the right to appeal within a reasonable length of time after the final judgment
is rendered. Similar to statutes of limitations, every court has a rule
dictating the length of time after the final judgment during which an appeal may
be made. For example, in the federal system, a federal district court's final
decision generally must be appealed within 30 days (or 60 days if the United
States or its agent or officer is a party). Otherwise, the party who wishes to
appeal loses that right forever.