It can be incredibly disappointing to learn that a court has ruled against you. Thankfully, litigants have the right to appeal the decision of a lower court in many cases. An appeal is a legal process that allows appellate courts to review whose decisions are made by trial courts or lower tribunals. When you appeal your case, you are not asking an appellate court to re-litigate your case by calling witnesses and reviewing evidence.
Once the trial court process is finished, the findings of fact are final. In other words, it is the job of the trial court to listen to all the evidence and make a finding of fact. Instead, appellate courts review the decisions made by lower courts to determine whether or not the lower court made a legal, not factual, error that would affect the outcome. We will explore what happens during an appeal below so you can become familiar with the process.
The Goal of a Civil Appeal
When filing an appeal in a civil lawsuit, the goal is to challenge the lower court's decision on a legal basis. As mentioned above, you will not be able to challenge the evidence presented, the lower court’s decision on facts, or question the witnesses’ credibility. You will only be able to argue that the lower court made a legal error and that the legal error was prejudicial to your case. Arguing cases on appeal requires a special skill set, and it is important that you hire an attorney with appellate experience in civil cases. Your lawyer will need to craft careful legal arguments based on case law to show the appellate court why the lower court made a legal error and how that legal error prejudiced the outcome of your case.
Starting an Appeal
The first step in the appeals process is usually to file a notice of appeal with the court clerk, where the lower court heard the original case. It is crucial that you file your appeal quickly. The deadline for filing an appeal is typically 30 days after the lower court makes its decision. If you do not file your appeal within this timeframe, you will likely lose the right to your appeal. Winning your appeal case begins with filing a timely motion to appeal and hiring an experienced appellate lawyer.
The Appellate Process
After you file your motion to appeal, your lawyer can begin working on reviewing the trial court record and finding any legal errors that may have occurred. Your lawyer will need to request a record of the court transcript. Reviewing the transcript is an in-depth process because most trials have a voluminous record with many different evidentiary documents. Your lawyer will review the transcript of the time in court and carefully screen for errors. After conducting a thorough review of the transcript, your lawyer will write an appellate brief. The appellate brief contains detailed legal arguments as to why the trial court made one or more legal errors that warrant the appellate court overturning the trial court’s decision.
If you lost at the trial court level, your lawyer will be arguing that the appellate court should reverse the trial court decision because of a legal error that prejudiced the outcome of your case. If you want at the trial court level, your lawyer will argue that the Appellate Court should uphold the lower court’s decision and that the lower court did not make any prejudicial legal errors. The appellate court may dismiss your appeal, determining that the original court’s order cannot be appealed at all. Appellate courts typically dismiss appeals when the appellant has not filed a timely appeal or is trying to appeal an order that is not final.
The Appellate Process is Different Than the Trial Court Process
Many people assume that when they appeal a lower-court decision, they will need to go through the trial court process all over again. On the contrary, the appellate process is entirely different from the trial court process. Remember, the trial court has already listened to all of the evidence and made a fact-finding decision. It is the appellate court's job to review legal matters that could have been wrongly decided, not to retry the case over again. The appellate process can take a significant amount of time, from a few months to over a year. Every case is unique, and the length of time depends on several factors, including how many complex issues are involved in your case. Your lawyer will help you understand the time frame involved in your case and answer any questions you have as you go through the process.
You Need an Appellate Lawyer on Your Side
People often wonder if they need a lawyer to represent them in the appeals process or if they should simply use the lawyer who tried their case at the lower court. The answer is that you do not need an attorney, but your chances of success are incredibly slim if you represent yourself. The Florida appellate process in civil cases is complex. You need an experienced appellate lawyer who has extensive experience handling appeals like yours. The procedural rules for appeals are different from those at the trial court level. Making a mistake, whether procedural or otherwise, can diminish your chances of success. You do not want your case to be dismissed because of an error that an experienced appellate lawyer could avoid.
Contact a Florida Appellate Lawyer Today
If you need to appeal a decision, contact Attorney Donna Solomon of Solomon Appeals, Mediation & Arbitration. She focuses her entire legal practice on civil appeals and alternative dispute resolution. With a proven track record of appellate law success, you can trust her to provide you with excellent legal representation throughout the appeals process. She has successfully helped many clients in the Fort Lauderdale area obtain successful outcomes on appeal.