In civil cases, either party can appeal to a higher court. This article will discuss the grounds for appeal in civil cases as well as the steps of the federal civil appeals process.
U.S. Courts of Appeals: An Overview
The United States Courts of Appeals (also called the Circuit Courts) were created by Congress under authority rooted in Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Serving as the intermediate level courts of the United States, the federal civil appeals courts are divided into 13 “circuits.” Each circuit represents a geographic region of the country and is charged with hearing appeals from within the borders of that specific region, along with appeals of federal administrative agency actions as assigned by the agency’s organic acts.
In the civil appeals process, cases are appealed to one of the Circuit Courts from one of the nation’s 94 U.S. District Courts. Appeals of Circuit Court decisions may be made to the United States Supreme Court, the country’s highest court, from which no further appeals can be taken.
The Circuit Courts are considered very powerful and influential on policy, as less than 3% of the 7,500 or so cases heard each year by the Circuit Courts make their way up to the Supreme Court for further appeal.
Appellate Court vs. Trial Court
In federal civil appeals, unlike trial courts with plaintiffs versus defendants, the side that seeks an appeal in the civil appeals process is called the petitioner. And the side that fights against the appeal is called the respondent.
The procedures of trial courts and appellate courts are also different from each other. In a U.S. District Court, witnesses give testimony, parties present evidence, and a judge or jury decides who is liable or not liable.
However, the Circuit Courts of Appeals do not retry cases, take witness testimony, or permit or accept the evidence. There is no jury to decide guilty or liability of the parties. Instead, a judge or panel of judges conduct a focused review of the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to ensure that the proceedings were conducted fairly, all rules were followed, and the correct law was applied.
The Constitutional Right to an Appeal
An appeal of a trial court decision may be granted as a matter of right from a trial court to an intermediate appellate court or at the court’s discretion. This depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.
Grounds for Appeal in Civil Cases
A petitioner may seek to appeal an aspect of the trial court proceedings or the entire outcome, based on the law being misapplied or the law being unconstitutional on its face.
Other grounds for federal civil appeals include juror misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel, which the accompanying argument being that such errors denied the petitioner a fair trial. Procedural errors are additional potential grounds for appeal, such as improperly admitted evidence, incorrect jury instructions, or insufficient evidence to support a court order or a jury verdict.
Federal Civil Appeals Process Steps
The time window for filing an appeal is very short in the federal civil appeals process. A Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days of the trial judge signing the judgment—unless a Motion for New Trial was filed, opening the appeal window a little wider for 90 days.
In most cases, the civil appeals process involves only legal briefs based on extensive legal research. But, in some cases, the appellate judge will permit or request oral argument to further hear the parties’ positions and even ask them specific questions. This can be a rigorous dialog, warranting effective legal counsel to represent both sides.
Below is an overview of the civil appeals process at the federal level:
- Selecting an Appellate Attorney
- Filing the Notice of Appeal
- Preparing the Record of Appeal (from trial court documents)
- Researching the Applicable Law
- Writing the Appellate Brief
- Presenting Oral Argument
Choosing a Federal Civil Appeals Attorney in Texas
There are many requirements associated with federal civil appeals. Missing even one step can have major ramifications. At the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer, our talented federal civil appeals lawyers are here to help you. Having handled numerous appeals claims each year, our law firm fully understands how the process works, how to collect crucial legal research, and what is needed to present a winning argument.
Contact our attorneys today to learn more about our extensive experience handling high-profile cases.