When we consider bringing a lawsuit, we will often discuss whether a court has jurisdiction to hear a particular case. The word ‘jurisdiction’ means that the court has the legal authority to hear and decide a specific legal matter. Florida courts can either have original or appellate jurisdiction. Some courts have both types of jurisdiction to hear certain types of cases.

Appellate Jurisdiction vs. Original Jurisdiction
In our justice system, appellate courts serve a unique role. Appellate courts will use their appellate jurisdiction to review the decision of a lower court. Appellate courts will not have an entirely new trial to decide the issue. Instead, they will decide whether or not the lower court that had original jurisdiction to hear the case made an error when applying the law to the facts of the case.

Appellate court judges will hear appeals from the lower trial courts and administrative agencies. Additionally, appellate courts have original jurisdiction in some types of cases. When a court has jurisdiction over a case, the court has the legal authority to make legal decisions in the case. On the contrary, when a court has appellate jurisdiction, it has the power to decide whether or not the lower court or administrative agency made the right decision. In short, when a court has original jurisdiction, the court has the legal power to hear the case for the first time.

The Supreme Court of Florida
Understanding the Florida court system structure will help us understand the difference between appellate jurisdiction and original jurisdiction. The highest court in Florida is called the Supreme Court of Florida. Seven judges sit on the Supreme Court of Florida, and at least four of them must agree before a decision can be reached. The jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court is outlined in the constitution of Florida. The Supreme Court of Florida must review the following cases:

  • Final orders imposing death sentences
  • District court decisions declaring a state statute or provision of the state constitution invalid
  • Bond validations
  • Certain orders of the Public Service Commission on utility rates and services

The Supreme Court of Florida has the discretion, or choice, to review any decision of a lower District Court of Appeal that:

  • Expressly declares valid a state statute
  • Construes a provision of the federal or state constitution
  • Effects a class of constitutional or state officers, or
  • Directly conflicts with a decision of another district court or the Supreme Court on the same question of law

The District Court of Appeal
Most appellate cases never reach the Supreme Court of Florida. Instead, judges made up of three panels on the district court of appeals hear appeals from the lower trial courts. District courts of appeal can hear appeals from final judgments. They can also review some types of nonfinal orders. District courts of appeal have the power to review final actions taken by state agencies carrying out duties for the executive branch.

District Court of Appeal decisions are typically the final level of appellate review for litigated cases. A party can ask the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court to review the case, but neither is required to accept the case, and most of these petitions are denied.

The Circuit Courts
Circuit courts have General jurisdiction over issues not assigned by statute to the county courts. They can also hear appeals from County court cases. As a result, circuit courts are the lowest appellate courts and the highest trial courts in Florida’s court system. Circuit Courts have original jurisdiction over the following types of disputes:

  • Civil disputes involving more than $30,000
  • Controversies involving the estates of decedents, minors, and persons adjudicated as incapacitated
  • Cases related to juveniles
  • Criminal prosecution
  • Tax disputes
  • Actions to determine the boundaries and title of real property
  • Suits for declaratory judgment to determine the legal rights and responsibilities of parties under contracts, laws, or regulations before a dispute arises
  • Request for injunctions to prevent people or companies from acting in a manner that is alleged to be unlawful

The County Courts
Each of Florida’s 67 counties has a County Court established by the Florida Constitution. County courts have original jurisdiction over civil disputes involving $30,000 or less. Most non-jury trials in Florida are before a judge sitting as the judge of a County Court. County courts are sometimes called the People’s Court because much of their work involves citizen disputes such as misdemeanors, small claims, and traffic offenses.

Understanding Extraordinary Writs
Courts have the authority to issue writs, which are formal written orders. Florida’s appellate courts, including the Florida Supreme Court and the District Courts of Appeal, have original jurisdiction to issue extraordinary writs. One common example of a writ is the writ of habeas corpus. When a prisoner petitions the court for a writ of habeas corpus, they are asking the court to rule on whether their detention is valid. Appellate courts also have original jurisdiction to issue the following writs:

  • Writ of certiorari – a petition for the appellate court to review a case
  • Writ of mandamus – compels a trial court or agency to perform a ministerial act they have refused or failed to perform, such as ruling on a pending motion
  • Writ of prohibition – allows an appellate court to order a lower court to refrain from acting in a certain matter

Discuss Your Case With an Experienced Appellate Lawyer
If you are considering bringing a lawsuit against another person or company, it is crucial that you understand the difference between appellate jurisdiction and original jurisdiction. Appellate jurisdiction means that the court has a right to hear an appeal from a court with original jurisdiction.

If you are an attorney who is uncertain about the best legal strategy in a case, we recommend discussing your case with Donna Solomon of Solomon Appeals, Mediation & Arbitration. Attorney Donna Solomon uses her decades of experience in appellate cases to consult with and advise fellow attorneys. Receiving an expert opinion can help you save time and money while effectively representing your clients. Contact her today to schedule your initial consultation.