Many people in Indiana have a general idea of what it means to appeal a decision. The popularity of legal TV shows, true crime shows streamed to our laptops and tablets, and news stories about the reversal of criminal convictions based on DNA evidence or a new United States Supreme Court case all touch on the idea of an “appeal.” But what does an “appeal” really mean, and what can you do to set yourself up for success if you find yourself having to appeal a decision from a trial court?1 These questions are addressed in this blog post.
An appeal is not a chance to start over. An appeal, broadly speaking, is an argument that a trial court (either a judge or a jury) made an error. An appellant (the person or party filing the appeal) may argue that the trial court did not consider some evidence that it was obligated to under the law, that a trial court disregarded a case that was similar to the appellant’s and that was previously decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals or the Indiana Supreme Court, that the jury did not follow the instructions issued by the judge, or that certain evidence was allowed when it should have been excluded under the Indiana Rules of Evidence. An appeal is not a chance to raise new issues, try to put in evidence that an appellant forgot during the trial court proceeding, or argue that a witness was lying. All of that should have been encompassed at the trial court level. This idea brings up the legal concepts of res judicia and/or estoppel. These concepts, in essence, prevent someone from relitigating or bringing the same issue up over and over again after it has been decided. This is one of the reasons to work with effective attorneys who will work diligently with you at the trial court level to help you try to reach your goals. So now you know what an appeal is used for.
Timing is everything. The Indiana Appellate Rules are unforgiving when it comes to deadlines. If you do not follow them specifically, there are many ways to “lose” your appeal and waive or forfeit your right to further appeal. Many may see this as losing on a “technicality” that seems unfair. However, filing an appeal is a technical process and requires a great deal of judicial resources that demands rigorous attention to the rules. It is not uncommon for attorneys to get calls from a potential client who wants to appeal, and the call ends in under one minute. This is because appellants do not pay attention to the deadlines and do not make the decision to appeal soon enough. If you wait too long to file your appeal, there is usually not much that can be done to help you.
The appeals process is much different that the trial court process. Whether in a civil lawsuit, a criminal case, or a family law matter, cases in the trial court follow a typical pattern that goes as follows: a suit is filed, the parties exchange information and may take depositions during the discovery process, legal motions may be filed, settlement negotiations are attempted, and if settlement is not reached, then the case goes to a hearing or a trial, either in front of a judge or a judge and a jury.2 An appeal is much different: there are no witnesses, there is no discovery, there is no jury, and there are rarely any negotiations. The typical process is as follows:
- The appellant files their notice of appeal.
- The court clerk and the court reporter work to certify the record and prepare the transcript of any hearing that is relevant to the appeal.3, 4
- Once the record and transcripts are ready, the appellant files a brief.
- Then, the appellee (the party/person who did not file the appeal) files a brief.
- Then, the appellant files a reply to the appellee’s brief.
- Typically, a panel of judges on the Indiana Court of Appeals reviews the case and makes a decision. Sometimes a hearing is held; other times, it is not. An appellate hearing is much different than a trial court hearing. The hearings are usually very short with each time given a designated time to argue. The judges on the panel may ask questions during the middle of the argument. No witnesses are present, and usually, it is only the attorneys who argue.
- Upon its ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals may affirm the trial court’s ruling, or it may reverse the trial court’s ruling in whole or in part with further instructions for the trial court to follow on remand.
There are typically two kinds of appeals. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of appeals – appeals after a final order, and interlocutory appeals.5 Appeals after a final order are relatively straight forward. After a final order and/or final judgment, meaning a ruling that disposes of all issues before the trial court as to all parties in the lawsuit, one may take an appeal. An interlocutory means that a final order has not been issued but one of the parties wants an appeal anyway. The party wanting to proceed with an interlocutory appeal essentially needs to get permission from the trial court and the Indiana Court of Appeals to do this. Sometimes there is an automatic right to an interlocutory appeal, such as if you are ordered to pay money. Usually, the trial court proceeding is stayed (a fancy word for “paused”) while the appeal proceeds. A scenario for an interlocutory appeal may be an issue that is decided early on in the trial court that will likely affect the rest of the proceedings
As stated above, appeals are technical. At risk of being redundant, there are many rules to be followed for an appeal. The Rules of Appellate Procedure, for example, provide:
- Ten (10) separate requirements for the contents of a Notice of Appeal;
- How the parties must cite authorities of law;
- How the parties must cite references to the record;
- What font must be used;
- How lines are to be spaced in the briefs;
- How the pages are to be numbered;
- What must be contained in the header of every page of a brief;
- The page limits of each brief;
- The word limits of each brief;
- What sections must be contained in separate headings in each brief and in what order they appear; and,
- How to prepare the appendices.
These are just some of the considerations that appellants must comply with in presenting their appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals. There are many other issues that a party involved in an appeal may want to consider avoiding losing an appeal or waiving a right to present an appeal. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys’ practice throughout the State of Indiana and understand the issues surrounding one wishing to appeal an unfavorable trial court ruling. This blog post is written by Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys and is not intended as specific legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- This blog covers what may be considered a “typical” appeal, if there is such a thing – meaning an appeal from the decision of a state trial court to the Indiana Court of Appeals. There are many other contexts where an appeal comes into play – the appeal of a decision from a United States District Court to a United States Circuit Court, the appeal of a decision by a small claims court in certain jurisdictions, the appeal of an administrative board decision, etc. which may have similarities to the process described here but also have many intricacies that are different.
- This is a very broad generalization.
- This in itself can be an expensive and time-consuming process. For example, if a three-day trial occurred, the court reporter may have to transcribe twenty-four hours of testimony, and the appellate attorney has to review that transcript. The court reporter’s preparation of the transcript is not free.
- There are also time limits on when this has to be completed. Under certain circumstances, it may be the appellant’s duty to file certain motions to continue to preserve their appeal and ensure that the record and transcripts are prepared.
- Exceptions to this idea exist. An order may not be final, but a party may nevertheless have an automatic right to appeal if it, for example, terminates certain rights or obligates the party to pay money, in certain contexts.