An appeal is an official request for a higher court to review a trial court decision based on alleged error of procedure or alleged error in application of the law. In civil cases, including business litigation, this may occur immediately following a decision on a motion or at the end of a trial. The ability to appeal and the timing of an appeal depends on the court rules and laws of the relevant jurisdiction. In the realm of business litigation, the appeals court scrutinizes the lower court decision to determine whether to uphold, reverse, or modify it. If you have questions about business litigation, it may be advantageous to consult with a business trial attorney.
First, the trial court determines the facts of the individual case and then applies the relevant law to make its decision. Generally, an appellate court only reviews questions of law. When a party receives an unfavorable decision, the questions under review in the court of appeals must relate to the interpretation and application of the law and to the procedural issues in the underlying trial-court decision. Questions of fact generally are not considered on appeal.
The procedure for obtaining appellate review varies from state to state and the federal system has its own specific requirements as well. Many state jurisdictions require that an appeal can only result from a final judgment. This means that an appellate court usually cannot hear appeals that address individual parts of a case before final decision is made. In some state courts, certain issues may be appealed before the trial concludes, but these states are in the minority. The finality of a judgment means that all questions of law and fact have been answered.
In most jurisdictions, the final judgment of the trial court can only be appealed to a higher court once.
Appellate Court System
Another state-specific issue is the number and type of appellate courts. The numbers and levels of appellate courts often depend on the size of the population and on how much business is transacted in that particular jurisdiction. Rules of appellate procedure are varied. Some states have only two levels of courts: the trial court and the appellate court, usually called the supreme court. Many other states have three levels of courts: trial, appeal, and highest/supreme. This is called an intermediate appellate court system. Some larger states even have five or six levels and often will have individualized courts of appeal for specific legal issues like tax and workers’ compensation.
The federal court system has its own appeals process. Most federal trials begin in district courts, which are trial courts that consider both issues of fact and law. The next level is the circuit courts of appeal, which deal with questions of law and normally only review the final decisions of the district courts. The United State Courts of Appeal are divided into eleven circuits (regions) throughout the United States. The final level of review is the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determines if it will review the judgment of the lower court on a discretionary basis. There are also some specialized federal courts in which businesses might find themselves, depending on their legal issues, including the US Bankruptcy Court and the US Tax Court.
Often a business will not go to a traditional court to have an issue heard, instead either choosing to or being required to resolve its issue before an administrative agency, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Most agencies’ final decisions are reviewable by a court.
It is important for business owners to understand the process under which trial court decisions are reviewed. In general, the appellate process is an area with variable rules and options that vary by jurisdiction and with the situation of the individual business. If you are faced with litigation involving business transactions or any aspect of your business, a lawyer can provide you with guidance regarding your specific situation. A business lawyer is an excellent resource for information regarding business litigation and the appeals process.