16. What is the process and procedure for appealing (“appeal”) the verdict in a civil trial?
The losing party in a case must file a request or notice of appeal with the trial court. This request allows the party to undertake the appeals procedure with the immediate appellate court. The request for appeal will generally include the grounds for appeal (allegations as to how the law was incorrectly applied or that the law is unconstitutional) and the record of trial. The appellate court will review and either grant or deny the request. If the court grants the appeal, the parties are allowed to file a brief in support of their position regarding the issues presented on appeal. The appellate hearing generally consists of 3-5 judges sitting together (“en banc”) to hear the parties’ arguments. In rare cases, all of the appellate judges will sit to hear a case. At the appellate hearing, counsel for each party is allowed to present an oral argument in support of her client’s position. The appellate court will take the briefs and arguments under consideration and deliberate on the case. The judges will then render an opinion as to the application of the law in the case and, sometimes, the constitutionality of the law. The appellate court’s written opinion about these matters becomes a part of the common law and serves as “precedent” for the future application of that law by subordinate courts. If the court finds that the trial court erred in the application of law, the trial court’s decision (or part of the decision) will be reversed and remanded for further action. The parties apposing the appellate court’s decision may request immediate appeal to the higher appellate court (generally the State or US Supreme Court). If the appeal is granted, the appellate procedure repeats itself. If the case is remanded to the trial court and the parties do not immediately appeal the appellate court’s decision, they may then re-litigate the issues that are remanded. At that point, the process repeats itself.
• Discussion: How do you feel about the system for requesting appeal of a trial court decision? Why do you think appellate procedure limits the information considered by the appellate court to the information in the the record of trial? Do you think the appellate court should review the evidence again (such as hearing testimony from witnesses).
• Practice Question: Mark is suing his former employer in state court for discriminatory firing. He loses his case at trial and immediately appeals to the state appellate court. What is the general process for requesting appeal? What will the court look for in deciding whether or not to grant an appeal? Under what situations could Mark appeal to the state and US Supreme Court?