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Appealing a Civil Court Case Ruling

Key Takeaways:

  • There is a limited time to file an appeal after a civil court decision.
  • The appellate court has a limited scope of review over the trial court's decision, meaning it is hard to win with new evidence.
  • If you lose at appeal, you may be able to appeal your case to a higher court.

After the time and expense of going through a civil trial, you may not like the outcome. The jury or trial judge may have focused on the wrong evidence or believed the false stories from the other parties. If you think there was something wrong with the way the trial court decided your case, you may be able to file an appeal.

An appeal is a chance for a higher court to review the trial court’s decision. But there are limits to what the appellate court can review. Talk to a civil appellate attorney for legal advice if you want to appeal your case to a higher court.

What Is an Appeal?

An appeal is a legal proceeding where a higher court reviews how the trial court handled the case. An appeal can only review limited factors. An appeal is not for trying your case all over again.

Generally, you can’t introduce new evidence or bring forward new facts that were not a part of the trial court record. If your arguments didn’t work in the trial court, you can’t develop new arguments to get “another bite at the apple.” The appellate court can only consider limited aspects of the original trial.

Standard of Review

In the civil appeals court, the appellate judge has a limited standard of review when looking at the district court or superior court record. Generally, the appellate court can review the decision based on:

  • De novo: The court is reviewing the case all over again, without any deference to the lower court.
  • Clearly erroneous: The court finds that the lower court committed a mistake.
  • Abuse of discretion: The lower court made its decision based on plain errors.
  • Arbitrary and capricious: The lower court had no reasonable basis for their findings.
  • Substantial evidence: There was not enough evidence to support the jury’s decision.

In most cases, an appeals court will not review a lower court’s decision from the start, known as de novo, because it does not give deference to the lower court and takes a lot of time and resources.

Even if the appeals court finds that the lower court made an error of law, the error has to be prejudicial, meaning that the error caused you substantial harm.

How Do You Appeal a Civil Lawsuit?

For most civil cases, a plaintiff or defendant usually waits until the case is decided to file an appeal. Either party can file an appeal. In some cases, both parties will appeal the trial court’s decision. The person who files the appeal is called the appellant or petitioner. The party responding to the appeal is the respondent.

In some cases, the parties can appeal the case in the middle of the trial. There may be an issue that the court needs to decide before going through with the rest of the case. This is known as an interlocutory appeal.

After the trial court judge issues a final ruling, you have limited time to file an appeal. The time limit for an appeal depends on state law, with some states limiting an appeal to approximately 30 days. If you miss the deadline, it may be too late to file an appeal unless you can show the court good cause.

You must file a notice of appeal and serve copies to the other parties involved. Most appeals court petitions are done with electronic filing (e-filing). To argue your position, you will submit a written brief that lays out your argument, including legal support and references to the court record. You may have a chance to argue your case before the judge unless you waive oral argument.

What Can a Court of Appeals Decide?

During the appellate process, if the court finds a prejudicial error, the court has several options, including:

  • Vacate and remand the trial court’s decision (send the case back to the trial court for further action)
  • Reverse the decision and order a new trial
  • Grant in part and reverse in part the lower court’s judgment

If the court finds no prejudicial error, it can deny your motion and affirm the lower court’s decision.

Can I File an Appeal After the Appellate Court Decision?

You may not like the answer even after the appellate court reviews your case. You can ask the appellate court to reconsider an error with a petition for rehearing, or you can appeal your case to an even higher court.

The names of higher courts are different in each state. For example, in New York, the court of first instance is called the Supreme Court, with the highest state court as the Court of Appeals. But in California, the court of first instance is the Superior Court, followed by the California Court of Appeal, with the highest court being the California Supreme Court.

The higher court will decide whether to hear your case. The courts will generally hear cases to settle important questions of law or where there is a split in lower court approaches. Talk to your lawyer if you have questions about how high you can appeal a civil case.

How Can an Appellate Lawyer Help?

There are special court rules for appeals. Generally, it is more difficult to win a case on appeal than by building a strong case at the trial court level. The appeals process can be confusing. This is why having an appellate lawyer represent you is so crucial. They can:

  • Explain the errors that may have happened at the trial level
  • Speak for you in the court system
  • Review the lower court’s application of the law
  • Realistically tell you whether to proceed with the appeals process

If you are unsatisfied with your trial’s outcome and want to appeal your case or have been served with a notice of appeal by an opposing party, talk to a civil appellate attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.

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