Every litigant in Indiana administrative proceedings or trial courts has the ultimate right to appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Trial courts make many orders, but typically it is the last one deciding the issues that is the final order that is subject to appeal. Usually. However, life and law are complex and sometimes an appealed order is not final as to all of the issues or not a final order at all. A recent case, Severance v. Pleasant View, demonstrates that even where a case before the Court of Appeals does not present a final appealable order, it may consider the case instead of dismissing the appeal; it also highlights the different ways the Court of Appeals may decide cases.
In deciding the Severance case, and issuing a written opinion, the Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s (interlocutory) order that was not final and remanded it (sent it back to the trial court) for an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the permanent injunction sought. Further, in a key tool used by the Court of Appeals, it placed a footnote in this decision guiding the trial court to the proper and controlling statute to consider, aiding it when the case was retried to reach a final order that would be subject to a proper appeal.
Thus, as is obvious, every case—even those that do not present final orders--may be decided by the Court of Appeals and reversed on appeal with an instruction to the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing, which would then, again, lead to a final appealable order and perhaps another appeal. The Court of Appeals may also decide a case—typically one with a final order---and issue decisions with many other remedies.
For instance, where the case is properly tried, and the evidence exists in the record, but the trial court applies the wrong law, the Court of Appeals may reverse the case and remand the case to the trial court to apply a different legal standard than it did in the first instance. This means the parties do not put on any new evidence, but the trial court decides the case on the facts (the record) already before it, which may then be appealed based on the application of the proper law to the evidence. In many such cases, a trial court may allow the parties to submit proposals as to how the case should be decided under correct law.
Because many cases involved multiple legal issues, the Court of Appeals may reverse the trial court’s decision on a particular issue and remand it to the trial court to re-decide the case on the evidence before it or receive new evidence. This too would then lead to the possibility of an appeal. Where new evidence is to be received, there may be a right to change of judge. Thus, no matter the type of case it confronts, the Court of Appeals is equipped with the authority to issues remedies that can meet the legal needs of our society. The Court of Appeals may affirm other issues and that final order of the case stands. In these cases, the Court of Appeals affirms the trial court’s decision in part and reverses it in part.
However, with all final orders decided by the Court of Appeals, there is the right to ask the Indiana Supreme Court to “accept transfer” and decide the case differently. There are very specific reasons this occurs and these are set forth in the appellate rules, such as the decision of the Court of Appeals in the particular case conflicts with its prior decisions or the case raises an important question of law that should be reconsidered. Law is not stale and sometimes needs to be changed, and the Supreme Court can grant transfer and make that change.
Lastly, the Court of Appeals may affirm the decision of the trial court on all issues. This means the decision of the trial court stands and this is the end of the case unless a transfer is granted.
In some cases of significant importance, the Court of Appeals may hear an oral argument where the parties argue the merits of the appellate case orally before a panel of the Court of Appeals.
The takeaways from this blog are the appellate process is, by nature, technical to be able to fully address the needs of a modern, complex society and there are many tools litigants and appellate attorneys use to advocate a case in the Court of Appeals. Further, the Court of Appeals has wide discretion in how it decides the merits of cases before and what it may require of litigants, attorneys, and trial courts when a case is remanded in some form. Indeed, the Court of Appeals may even elect to decide cases that are not final orders as it did in Severance where it is subject to its dismissal. Thus, chose appellate counsel wisely and understand the ways a case may be decided on appeal.
This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle criminal and civil appeals of all types and from all Indiana counties in the Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court. This blog post is written for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a solicitation for legal services. It is an advertisement.