Appellate Law FAQ

Question:
What is Appellate Law?

Answer:

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 appeal.



Question:
What are some key requirements for appealing a decision?

Answer:

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 concerned.

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.