Appealing A Court Decision

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Appealing A Court Decision

All is not lost.  If you’ve gotten an adverse ruling in a lawsuit, you may be able to turn it around on appeal.  But an appeal is not a re-do of the trial court argument.  The burdens, inferences and presumptions in the appellate court are different.  On top of that, timing is everything, because if you do not timely appeal, you may lose your appeal rights.

The appellant has the burden to prove error by the trial judge and that the decision is an appealable order.  And, if as appellant you cannot show that the notice of appeal was timely filed and the order is appealable, you lose even before you begin.  Then, you must show how you were prejudiced by the trial court’s error i.e., there was a miscarriage of justice – an error of law, improperly excluded material evidence, or a lack of evidence to support the decision.  Typically, the court of appeal will indulge all inferences and presumptions to support the trial court judge’s decision and will not review the credibility of witnesses or weigh the evidence.  So, the appeal must be directed to specific errors.  Errors by the trial court are reviewed based on (1) was there an error of law, (2) abuse of discretion, or (3) lack of substantial evidence.

While overturning a trial court decision is difficult, errors of law are the ‘easiest’ way to successfully appeal as they are reviewed by the court of appeal ‘de novo,’ as if the appellate court was the trial court deciding based on the evidence presented.  An example – did the court use the correct law and/or the correct interpretation of the law, or correctly interpret the written trust, contract, power of attorney or settlement?  For factual findings, the appellate court defers typically to the trial court, but it becomes murky when there are mixed questions of fact and law.

Matters requiring review based on the trial court’s abuse of discretion are less likely to be overturned as those issues are based on a review of the trial court’s decision considering the applicable law and relevant circumstances – does it exceed the ‘bounds of reason’ standard.  This is deferential to the trial court and reviews findings of fact for substantial evidence and conclusions of law de novo.  But application of the law to the facts is reversible only if arbitrary and capricious.

The substantial evidence review is likely to result in affirmance of the trial court.  Why?  It assumes that the trial court did everything correct and almost any evidence to support the trial court decision will suffice.  The court of appeal will not re-judge the evidence or resolve conflicts but accepts the trial court judge of the facts as credible or not.

The statistics of winning on appeal are slim, under twenty percent.  Here is the recommendation:  do not lose at the trial court level!  We’re here to help.  Feel free to contact Dawn:

Information contained in this Memo is intended for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.  It is considered advertising under laws of some states.  Epps & Coulson, LLP encourages you to call to discuss these matters as they apply to you or your business.

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