A decision by the California Superior Court can be reviewed by the California Court of Appeal. The party appealing the Trial Court’s decision is known as the Appellant, and the other party to the lawsuit is known as the Appellee. Generally, only Judgments and Orders After Judgment (such as an Order on a Motion for Attorney Fees) are appealable. Generally, Orders Before Judgment, such as Orders from Motions ruled on before Trial, or during Trial before there is a Judgment, may only be reviewed by the Court of Appeal by a Petition for Writ. An Order on a Demurrer, Motion for Summary Judgment, a Motion resulting in a Dismissal, or a Final Judgment after a Trial are appealable.
A Notice of Appeal must first be filed in the Superior Court that decided the case. The Notice of Appeal can be filed as soon as the Trial Court files on the record the Order or Judgment for which is appealable. In California Superior Court, the Notice of Appeal and a Proof of Service of the Notice on the other party in the civil lawsuit must be filed the earlier of:
(1) Sixty (60) days after either the Trial Court Clerk or the other side serves you with Notice of Judgment or a copy of the filed Judgment, or
(2) 180 days after the Entry of Judgment.
A filing fee is also required by the Court. It is important that the Notice of Appeal is filed timely. The Appeal will be dismissed if the Notice is filed late.
When the Notice of Appeal is filed, the Superior Court Clerk will send a notice of the filing to the Attorneys of record. Within fifteen (15) days after the Superior Court Clerk sends the notification, the Appellant must serve and file in the reviewing Court a completed Civil Case Information Statement (Form APP-004), attaching a copy of the Judgment or appealed Order that shows the date it was entered.
Generally, ten (10) days after the Notice of Appeal is filed, the Appellant must “designate the record” by indicating to the Trial Court what documents and transcripts should be included in the record that will be sent to the Appellate Court. Fees for producing the record are required to be paid. In California Superior Court, the Trial Court that heard the case will prepare a packet for the District Court of Appeal, usually consisting of the Clerk’s Transcript, the Court Reporter’s Transcript, and a Settled Statement or Agreed Statement describing what took place in the disputed case.
California has six (6) Appellate Courts known as District Courts of Appeal. The Appeal will be presented to a panel of three (3) Judges who will review the record in the Trial Court. The Judges will decide if any legal mistakes were made that affected the final outcome of the Trial. The Court of Appeal does not provide a re-Trial or a new Trial of the case. Generally, the Court of Appeal will not consider new witnesses or new evidence. Rather, the Court of Appeal reviews the case to determine if the law was correctly applied by the Trial Court, usually involving material errors in the Trial’s procedure or errors in the Judge’s interpretation of the law.
The Appellant must file an Appeal Brief, which is a written argument containing the facts and the legal authority upon which supports a reversal of the Trial Court’s decision. The Appellee then may file an Answering Brief responding to the Appellant’s brief. The Appellant may file a second brief responding to the Appellee’s Answering Brief.
The Appellate Court may make a decision based on the briefs. Or, the Appellate Court may schedule a hearing for oral arguments. In addition, either party may request a hearing. The Attorneys will present their case to the Court and answer questions by the Judges.
If it is determined that an error of law was committed by the Trial Court, the lower Court’s Judgment will be reversed. However, if the error was harmless, the Judgment will not be reversed. Harmless error is one which does not prejudice the rights of the parties to a Fair Trial. An example of a prejudicial error may include the admission of improper evidence and therefore be considered a reversible error.
If the Trial Court’s Judgment is affirmed, the losing party may still appeal to a higher Court. If the Trial Court’s Judgment is reversed, the case will be remanded back to the Trial Court with an order, such as:
(1) Hold a new trial,
(2) Modify or correct the Trial Court’s Judgment, or
(3) Reconsider the facts, in light of additional evidence and recent Appellate Court decisions.
The Trial Court’s Judgment is still enforceable despite the filing of an Appeal. However, the Appellant can file with the Court a Supersedeas Bond, also known as the “Defendant’s Appeal Bond,” which is a surety bond that stays the execution of a Judgment while the Appeal is pending. The filing of this bond guarantees that the Appellant will satisfy the Judgment if affirmed.
The California Supreme Court is the highest Court in the State of California and is responsible with reviewing the decisions made by the Courts of Appeal. The California Supreme Court consists of seven (7) Judges. Four (4) of the Judges must agree to form a decision, which must be followed by all other lower State Courts in California.
The United States District Courts are organized into twelve (12) Circuits which cover a particular region. Each Circuit has a designated Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from the District Courts within the region. In addition, the Court of Appeals can hear appeals from decisions of Federal administrative agencies. Moreover, the Federal Circuit Court also has a designated Court of Appeals for matters involving specialized cases such as patent law, international trade, and civil claims against the Federal government.
The United States Supreme Court is the highest Court in the United States. A Writ of Certiorari must be granted in order for the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision. A Writ of Certiorari is a request to the U.S. Supreme Court to order a lower Court to send up the record of the case for review. The U.S. Supreme Court can only choose a limited number of cases from the cases it is asked to decide. The cases may come from the Federal or State Court system, typical from the U.S. Court of Appeals or the highest State Court. The U.S. Supreme Court usually only hears cases with national significance or that involve important questions about the United States Constitution or Federal law.
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