appellate court

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Financial, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Appellate Court

A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.

An unsuccessful party in a lawsuit must file an appeal with an appellate court in order to have the decision reviewed. In the United States, appellate courts exist at both the federal and the state levels. On the federal level, decisions of the U.S. district courts, where civil and criminal matters are tried, can be appealed to the U.S. court of appeals for the circuit covering the district court. Eleven numbered federal judicial circuits have been established. Each circuit comprises a number of states that are usually, though not always, in close geographic proximity. For example, the Eighth Circuit includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota, and the Sixth Circuit is made up of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Washington, D.C., has two U.S. Courts of Appeals: the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals arising out of decisions of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive and nationwide jurisdiction in appeals from U.S. District Court decisions in patent, Copyright, trademark, and other specialized areas.

A decision of a U.S. court of appeals may be appealed to yet another appellate court, the Supreme Court of the United States. An appeal to the Supreme Court is made by filing a petition for certiorari (a document requesting a review of court records). The Supreme Court has broad discretion in determining whether to review decisions. The Court receives thousands of petitions a year, but can only review about one hundred cases in that span of time. It most often denies certiorari and hears only cases that raise important and unsettled constitutional questions or in which the federal appellate courts have reached conflicting decisions on the same issue.

On the state level, a decision of a state trial court—usually a district or other local court—can be appealed to a state appellate court for review. In most states, a case must first be appealed to an intermediate appellate court. If it receives an unfavorable ruling at the intermediate level, the case can then be appealed to the highest appellate court in the state, usually the state supreme court. Like the Supreme Court of the United States, a state's highest court usually has the discretion to decide whether to review a decision reached by the intermediate court. Some cases decided by the highest court in a state also can be appealed to the Supreme Court, though again the U.S. Supreme Court will hear only appeals of major significance.

In both state and federal matters, in general, an appeal can be brought only after a final decision, or final judgment, in the action has been entered. A judgment is final for the purposes of an appeal when nothing more is to be decided in the action, and it concludes all rights that were subject to litigation. This rule is based in part on the desire for judicial economy: it is more efficient for all matters to be heard in one appeal than for a case to be conducted "piecemeal" (in several appeals) before it is finally resolved. However, both state and federal courts will in some instances hear an Interlocutory appeal, which is an appeal of a matter that does not decide the entire case but must be addressed before the case can be decided on its merits. In other instances, whether an interlocutory appeal will be granted depends on the issue at hand. If the issue concerns whether the lawsuit should go forward at the trial level, it is more likely to be heard, since it may avoid an unnecessary trial. For example, an interlocutory appeal may be permitted from an order granting or denying an Injunction even though the main issues in the case have yet to be tried.

The proceedings in the federal and state appellate courts are quite different from those that take place in a trial court. At the trial level, witnesses are called to testify and a jury is often present to hear evidence and reach a verdict. At the appellate level, the trial court record and briefs prepared by both parties are reviewed, and oral arguments may be heard; witnesses are not called and no jury is convened. The trial court record usually contains the pleadings that first initiated the case, a complete transcript of the court proceedings, materials admitted into evidence, and documents indicating the final judgment.An appellate court differs from a trial court in another important respect: only the trial court determines the factual issues in a case. In its review, the appellate court does not try factual issues. Instead, it determines only whether there is sufficient evidence to support the findings of the trial court and whether the trial court correctly applied the law.

Both the appellant (the party appealing the lower-court ruling) and the appellee (the party against whom the appeal has been brought) file written briefs with the appellate court. The briefs—which recite the facts of the case, the arguments being raised on appeal, and the applicable law—help the court decide whether the trial court erred in its decision.

The appellate court may also hear oral arguments in the case. During oral argument, each party has ten to fifteen minutes to persuade the appellate court to rule in its favor. If numerous issues have been raised, a party may choose to use most of this time to cover the issues that are most crucial to the decision to be made. The court is free to interrupt an oral argument with questions concerning the facts of the case or the particular areas of law involved. The appellate court, at its discretion, may determine that oral argument is not necessary and may decide the case based only on the trial court record and the written briefs.

In making its decision, the appellate court may affirm the trial court, meaning that it accepts the decision of the lower court, or may reverse it, thus agreeing with the appellant's contention that the trial court's decision was erroneous. It may also modify the decision; in this instance, the court may accept part of the trial court's decision while ruling that other issues were erroneously decided.

The appellate court usually issues its decision in the form of a written opinion stating its reasons for the decision. The opinion will discuss the relevant facts, and apply the law to those facts. Appellate court opinions are usually published, thus forming a body of law, known as precedent, that attorneys and judges can consult for guidance in resolving similar legal questions.

Further readings

Cohen, Jonathan Matthew. 2002. Inside Appellate Courts: The Impact of Court Organization on Judicial Decision Making in the United States Courts of Appeals. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

Klein, David E. 2002. Making Law in the United States Courts of Appeals. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.


Appeal; Appellate Advocacy; Courts; Federal Courts.

appellate court

n. a court of appeals which hears appeals from lower court decisions. The term is often used in legal briefs to describe a court of appeals. (See: appeal)

appellate court

noun court of appellate jurisdiccion, court of review, higher court, senior court
Associated concepts: appellate division, appellate jurisdiccion, appellate term

appellate court

References in periodicals archive ?
The appellate court then held that the trial court should have considered all of the hours reasonably expended by all of Forthuber's attorneys in its calculation of a fee to be awarded to him.
3d DCA 2011), a criminal case, the appellate court granted the appellee-defendant's motion for rehearing in a two-sentence opinion that simply cited a recent opinion of the Florida Supreme Court as the basis for its decision to grant rehearing.
The appellate court found that the district court did not commit clear error in finding that Ivy consented to the officers entry into the house.
Finally, the appellate court addressed whether INDOPCO requires capitalization of the loan origination costs.
According to Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Branch Ministries case, the appellate court action was a significant victory.
The Court began by stating the longstanding rule, adopted by the Court in Smith, that an appellate court may dismiss a criminal defendant's appeal if the defendant is a fugitive from justice while the appeal is pending.
The Appellate Court properly noted that the Illinois law cited by the Cook County Judge was never intended to grant rights to an unimplanted, fertilized egg.
The appellate court affirmed, holding that Bollinger had no duty to provide quotes for higher policy limits.
There were two candidates for the post, including Svilen Aleksandrov, Chair of the Sofia Military Court, and Dimitar Fikiin, judge at the Military Appellate Court.
A member of the National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks since 2000, "Hall has distinguished himself and his court by providing exemplary service to his profession and the principles of this conference," according to the organization.
ISLAMABAD, September 30, 2009 (Balochistan Times): Under Gilgit-Baltistan Self Empowerment and Governance Order 2009, a separate Supreme Appellate Court has come into existence to deal with judicial issues of the area.
PALMDALE -- A state appellate court ordered sentencing on a lesser charge and threw out the second-degree murder conviction Monday of a Palmdale boy who killed another boy with a baseball bat after a youth league game.