The Rules of Appellate Procedure are intended to be very specific, time-sensitive, and speedy for justice and make the Indiana Court of Appeals one of the most efficient in the Country. The average appeal follows certain precise Appellate Rules that typically do not fluctuate in terms of when you are required to initiate your appeal – thirty (30) days after a “final” order is issued by the trial court. No rules are perfect. This blog covers for unique situations or anomalies that are not always apparent in the final-rule order and impact when you can appeal; you must know and follow to preserve your right to appeal (this is why it is often useful to get appellate counsel as soon as you expect or have what is an adverse final (or in some cases interlocutory) order.
The first situation occurs with some “oral rulings”. Your case is set for trial. Witnesses testify, and exhibits are entered into evidence. At the end of the trial, the Judge issues his/her order verbally from the bench. Typically, an appeal is initiated when that ruling is reduced to a written order and recorded on the court’s chronological case summary. However, in the case of an oral ruling, you may need to consider whether the oral ruling is final, which starts the clock ticking to file a notice of appeal and whether the court indicates a date and time to receive a written final order. If the order merely appears on the CCS, it may be a final order and a Notice of Appeal may have to be filed to protect your right to appeal. This is a matter to immediately discuss with trial counsel, who may well direct you retain appellate counsel. If this is a final order, your time for appeal maybe running.
In other cases, the trial court may bifurcate (divide the issues and hear them in a certain order), or separate, the issues before the court and hold separate hearings on those issues (most litigation has more than one legal issue involved in the lawsuit). A common example is when custody and child related issues are heard at a different time than issues related to marital property in a divorce proceeding. The trial court may hold a hearing on the property and enter a final order on that issue, even if the hearing on custody is not set to be heard until several months later. If the property order (or custody order) entered is not in your favor, your inclination would be to file an appeal on the property or custody order immediately. However, the Court of Appeals may not consider the custody order to be “final” which is required to initiate an appeal. The passage of time to the next hearing date may cause irreparable harm to your case that may not be able to be corrected with an appeal months later. In certain cases, you may be able to get one order designated final for appeal or appeal it as an interlocutory order. Where harm will occur in a bifurcated proceeding, it is wise to consult with appellate counsel.
There are certain complex trials or situations that may cause the trial court to issue separate orders related to the same issue, such as the matter of contempt of a party. There may be multiple orders resulting from the initial request for an order of contempt, including the order finding a party in contempt, and possibly a second order compelling the party to remedy the contempt, either by taking some action (or ceasing to) or through the payment of money. There could also be an order requiring the party in contempt to pay the initiating party’s attorney’s fees. In this instance, if you are the party in contempt and do not agree with the initial ruling, and subsequent rulings—all of which may be final orders—you may need to consider initiating an appeal as soon as the first order is issued. You may even find yourself in the position of filing multiple appeals, with the intention of consolidating them later. These are complicated procedural issues for appeal that appellate counsel can help you sort out to preserve your right to appeal all final orders and do so in an efficient way.
There are several other specific types of legal proceedings where the appellate cases themselves or other rules or guidance may be conflicted on timely initiating an appeal. If you are every considering taking an appeal if you lose some or all a case, you should discuss with trial counsel the proper time to consider consulting with or retaining appellate counsel. So, for example, if you are involved in a CHINS proceeding, the rules for the initiation of an appeal are different than most other cases. If the trial court finds (adjudicates) that your child needs services, like finding you guilty in a criminal case, you may not appeal this order until the trial court has issued its dispositional order. However, the Court of Appeal in the past has exercised its jurisdiction to take and decide appeals initiated at the earlier CHINS fact-finding. Thus, the rules are not always clear from the appellate rules but somewhat unwritten “custom” and/or practice standards. A prudent litigant who faces such an order would be well served consult with appellate counsel to maximize timely bringing an appeal and make the best appeal possible.
The take-away from this blog post is if you believe you have an order that should be appealed, it is advisable for you to retain appellate counsel immediately to ensure that you file the notice of appeal at the appropriate time and do not waive your rights by missing the deadline. Do not miss the deadline or you forfeit your right to appeal. Your trial counsel may be a good place to start the discussion. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle appeals from all final orders (and certain proper interlocutory orders) issued by all Indiana trial courts from all counties. This blog is written for general educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.