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Appeals of Court Cases

How do cases arrive before the appellate courts?

The method by which a case arrives before an appellate court varies based upon the type of appellate court.

US Circuit Courts of Appeals – The US Courts of Appeal hear cases appealed from the Federal District Courts. Like all appellate courts, the Courts of Appeal review cases to determine:

⁃ whether the correct law was applied, and
⁃ whether it was applied correctly, and
⁃ whether the law, as applied, violates rights provided by the US Constitution.

Generally, appeals derive from a request by the losing party at trial. In some cases, however, a party may make an interlocutory appeal, which is an appeal of a single issue before the case has been decided. This is only allowed, however, when the issue is extremely important or would effectively decide the case. The losing party generally requests permission to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals. The court will either grant the request or deny it – making final the decision on the appealed issue.

Discussion: Do you think that interlocutory appeals should be allowed? What are some good arguments for allowing such appeals? Arguments against them?

Practice Question: ABC, Inc., is facing a civil lawsuit in federal district court initiated by one of its employees for allegedly failing to provide the required disclosures about the company-sponsored retirement plans. The applicable federal law lays out numerous standards for plan disclosure and provides that a company that fails to comply will be subject to actual and statutory damages. ABC believes that the law is ambiguous and does not require the disclosures identified by the plaintiff. During trial, ABC moves for the court for a directed verdict in its favor. The court denies the motion. ABC knows that continuing to a jury trial will cost lots of money and that a jury is always likely to find in favor of an employee over an employer. Nonetheless, ABC does not want to settle the case and leave open the question of whether it must comply with this level of disclosure. What are ABC’s options regarding appealing any outcome from the trial court?

How do cases arrive before the appellate courts?

The method by which a case arrives before an appellate court varies based upon the type of appellate court.

US Supreme Court – The US Supreme Court accepts cases via two primary methods. The first method is the Writ of Certiorari. This is a written demand issued by the court for the case to be transferred to the court for review. Procedurally, 4 of 9 Justices must agree to accept the writ and review the case. The second method is pursuant to appeal by any party to a case. Generally, the court will only accept appeals of issues that have important and broad impact. Further, the issues on appeal generally involve issues of constitutionality. The Supreme Court may use this authority to review decisions by the highest court in any state or by any federal court. As the highest appellate court, decisions by US Supreme Court are final. That is, its decisions cannot be appealed further. Also, its decisions provide precedent for all inferior courts. This means that all lower courts (state and federal) must follow, interpret, and apply the law consistently with the interpretation of the Supreme Court. The court’s interpretation of the law actually becomes part of the law and forms the common law surrounding the statute.

Discussion: How do you feel about the US Supreme Court’s ability to demand that any appellate case be transferred to the court for review? Is there are good argument that appeals to the Supreme Court should only happen pursuant to petition of the parties?

Practice Question: Gerard, a citizen of State A, does not agree with a state statute allowing state agencies to ask employees about political affiliation as part of a job application. He believes that employers ask political affiliation questions as a subtext for discriminating based upon social belief and the expression of those beliefs. He files a federal action in the US District Court challenging the statute. The court defers action on the case and recommends immediate appeal based upon questions of constitutionality of the statute. At this point, Gerard is confident that his view will prevail in the Circuit Court, because a separate federal circuit court recently ruled on a similar issue in a way that is favorable to or recognizes Gerard’s argument. Surprisingly, the local federal circuit rejects Gerard’s arguments and holds the statute to be constitutional. Gerard immediately requests appeal to the US Supreme Court. What factors and procedures will affect the Supreme Court decision of whether or not to accept the case?

How do cases arrive before the appellate courts?

The method by which a case arrives before an appellate court varies based upon the type of appellate court.

Appeals from Legislative and Administrative Courts – In general, parties appearing before legislative courts have direct rights of appeal to Article III Courts (District or Circuit Courts). The ability to appeal, however, is not generally immediate. A party wishing to appeal a legislative court’s decision must first appeal to the agency administrator or to an internal administrative board within the agency. Once this is complete, if this does not remedy the issue, the parties may appeal to the Federal District Court. The District Court will act as an appellate court for the matter in question. In certain cases, the parties may appeal directly to the Circuit Court and skip review by the District Court. The important thing to remember is that parties appearing before Article I courts must still have the ability to appeal the court’s decision to an Article III court. Otherwise, cutting off access to an Article III court may be unconstitutional as a violation of due process rights.

Discussion: Do you believe that the appeals procedure described above adequately protects the appellant’s constitutional right to due process? How do you feel about the requirement of having to first appeal to an internal administrator or agency board before being able to appeal to an Article III court? Can you think of any good reasons for adding this requirement?

Practice Question: Meredith wants to file a civil action in federal court against her employer, ABC, Inc., for sex discrimination. She contends that ABC generally provides higher compensation to men than women for the same type of work and that she is a victim of this illegal treatment. She files a claim with the EEOC, the administrative agency charged with investigating claims of sex discrimination under federal law. She does not want to wait on the EEOC to undertake its investigation, so she immediately files a civil action against the employer in the federal district court. What will likely be the result of this situation?

How do cases arrive before the appellate courts?

The method by which a case arrives before an appellate court varies based upon the type of appellate court.

Appeals in the State Court System – The appellate procedure in state court is similar to that of the federal system. Decisions from the trial court go to the intermediate court of appeals, unless the state does not have an intermediate court of appeals or state statute requires appeal directly to the state supreme court.

Discussion: Do you think that state trial court decisions should ever be allowed to be appealed to a federal district court or a federal circuit court? Are there any good arguments for or against this hypothetical appellate process?

Practice Question: Wallace is charged with the misdemeanor crime of public intoxication. He contends that he is not guilty, as his intoxication was from a prescribed medicine and was not voluntary. The prosecutor brings the case in an intermediate trial court of limited jurisdiction that does not allow for a jury trial. Wallace is aware that he can ask for a jury trial and the case will be removed to the state’s superior courts. He decides to proceed to trial in the court of limited jurisdiction. Ultimately he is convicted and ordered to pay a fine. Wallace believes that he would have prevailed in the case if there had been a jury. What are Wallace’s options at this point?

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