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The Civil Appeals Process (& How it is Different From the Trial Process)

The civil appeals process can be complicated. This blog is a follow-up to our previous blog titled “Civil Appeal versus Civil Writ: What is the Difference?” Most people are familiar with appeals because they are filed in many cases. However, in addition to the many differences between a writ and a civil appeal, there are also differences between the appellate process and the trial court process.

Jurisdiction for Civil Appeals

Your civil appeal must be filed in state or federal court, depending on the jurisdiction of the trial court where the litigants tried the lawsuit. A case filed in California state court is appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which is subject to review by the California Supreme Court.

If the original case was filed in a federal trial court (referred to as “district courts”), the Federal Court of Appeals would review the decision. The federal appellate system is divided into “circuits,” and California falls in the Ninth Circuit Court’s jurisdiction. Federal Court of Appeals decisions are subject to review by the United States Supreme Court.

Filing a Notice of Appeal

The initial step in an appeal is to file a notice of appeal in the trial court by a specified deadline. It is crucial to work with a California appellate attorney to ensure you do not miss this deadline, or the Court of Appeal will not review your case. Additionally, it can be challenging to determine the deadline for filing a Notice of Appeal, because it depends on how the parties were given notice of the judgment being appealed and whether post-trial motions were filed. So, again, working with an experienced appellate lawyer is necessary to timely filing an appeal. If the Notice of Appeal is not filed on time, the Court of Appeal does not gain jurisdiction over the case.

The Notice of Appeal is a straightforward document. For example, a Notice of Appeal in state court is often a single-page document that identifies the judgment, or each appealable order being appealed, and a brief statement of the issues to be decided on appeal.

In contrast, a lawsuit is started in the trial court when the plaintiff files a petition or complaint. This pleading must set forth the jurisdiction of the court and the factual and legal allegations against the defendant.

Appealable Orders It is crucial to work with an attorney experienced in filing appeals. There are severe consequences if you make an error in determining whether a trial court order is appealable or not. If you fail to identify an appealable order timely, it may be waived or forfeited.

Additional Tidbits About the Civil Appeals Process

    The civil appeals process is lengthy and typically takes at least a year, if not longer. Below is a summarized version of the steps involved in an appeal:
  • • The “record” on appeal is everything that occurred in the lower court. The designation of record is critical because the parties are typically limited to arguments based on the record. If something is not included in the record, it does not exist for purposes of the appeal.
  • • The trial court’s judgment may or may not be stayed or put on “hold” while the appeal is pending. Filing a Notice of Appeal stays some judgments, but there are multiple exceptions to the general rule and sometimes an appellate bond must be posted.
  • • The notice of appeal transfers jurisdiction over the case from the trial court to the Court of Appeal.
  • • Once the Notice of Appeal is filed and the record is prepared, the parties will brief their arguments. An appeal is not simply another opportunity to argue your case. Your appellate lawyer will identify the legal issues you are most likely to win on and the errors made by the trial court which prejudiced the outcome at trial. The appellant must define the specific issues for the Court of Appeal, identify the proper standard of review for the Court of Appeal to apply, and show how the law was on your side, and how you were prejudiced by the trial court’s error.
  • • Following the parties’ briefing, the Court of Appeal will hold oral argument. Your appellate lawyer must be prepared to answer questions from a panel of three judges. After the argument, the Court of Appeal will issue a written decision. After the decision is issued, jurisdiction is returned to the trial court.

Hire an Experienced Appellate Attorney

The key to maximizing your changes on appeal is to hire the right representation. Make sure you hire an experienced appellate attorney. These cases can be extremely complicated. It’s essential to have someone on your side who understands the complexities of the civil appeals process and what it takes to win an appeal.

Attorneys Noreen Evans and Deirdre Kingsbury understand the complexities of appellate law and how to write and present a persuasive appellate brief. At Evans Kingsbury LLP we are appellate lawyers with decades of experience who can take your case to the next level. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your case.

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