The Civil Appeals Process
Sept. 30, 2022
You’ve just been sued for breach of contract and lost. As a result, you have to pay compensation to the plaintiff – the one who sued you – for that party’s losses due to your breach. You don’t like the sentence. It seems way out of proportion.
Can you appeal and get the decision reversed?
The answer depends. If the only basis you have for appealing is that you disagree with the sentence or that you detest the plaintiff and don’t want to pay the money, you probably lack the legal justification for an appeal.
An appellate court can review a lower court’s decision but only upon two grounds, which must be set forth and justified in your request for an appeal. One ground is that the judge, jury, or both made a legal error that was prejudicial to your defense. The other is that the evidence introduced does not justify the court’s decision.
When filing for an appeal, the bar is fairly high to get a decision modified, returned to court for retrial, or overturned. Also, if you file what is called a “frivolous” appeal, it can rebound and land you in further legal turmoil. You must ensure the grounds listed for your appeal are based on legal error.
If you find yourself in this predicament – having lost a civil lawsuit in a case marred by legal mistakes – near the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, contact the Law Offices of David H. Schwartz, INC. Attorney David Schwartz has more than four decades of experience in reviewing trial records, discovering errors that justify an appeal, and representing clients in a higher court appeal.
The Law Offices of David H. Schwartz, INC proudly represent clients throughout and around the San Francisco Bay Area, including San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Oakland, and Alameda County, California.
The Appeals Filing Process
Depending on the type of case you’ve lost and for which you’ve received a final judgment, the deadline for filing an appeal varies. Rule 8.104 of the California Rules of Court defines what it terms the “normal” deadline in state court for civil trial appeals.
According to this rule, you have between 30 and 90 days to file your appeal on what is called a limited civil case, in other words, one representing less than $25,000. You have 30 days after receiving official notice of the final judgment’s filing or 90 days after the entry of the judgment, whichever is earlier, to file your appeal.
In an unlimited case involving sums more than $25,000 (or matters of family law), you have between 60 and 180 days to file. You have 60 days after receiving official notice of the final judgment’s filing and 180 days after the entry of the judgment, whichever is earlier.
When you decide to formally file, the Judicial Council of California, representing the California courts system, has created and made available “Notice of Appeal” forms to be filled out and submitted to start the process. There are separate forms for limited and unlimited civil cases.
What Happens During an Appeal?
An appeal is not a new trial. You cannot introduce new evidence or call witnesses. There is no jury, and instead of one judge, there are three chosen from the larger California Court of Appeal.
In practical terms, you and the other party are mostly limited to filing briefs to state your case. On some occasions, both sides may be given 15 minutes before the judges to present their arguments.
The question invariably arises if your appeal will stay the original judgment. The answer is yes if there is no money involved. If money is involved – a fine, restitution, compensation for losses – the appellant will be required to post a cash bond, usually equal to the sum of the original judgment.
So, if your objective is to merely postpone paying what you’ve been ordered to pay, an appeal won’t do you much good.
The Basis for Judgment in an Appeal
As mentioned earlier, an appeal looks into possible legal errors and prejudices that may have tilted the results. It does not look into evidence not submitted or listen to witnesses not called the first time. The judges review the record of the trial to determine if there is a basis for taking some action on the results, whether ordering the issue back to trial, modifying the judgment, or vacating the whole proceeding.
An appeals court will basically rely on three standards for review:
ABUSE OF DISCRETION: The judge may be found to have made a ruling that the appeals court finds to be “arbitrary” or “absurd.” For instance, your defense attorney may have introduced evidence in your favor that was ruled inadmissible by the judge. If the appellate judges find this decision to be arbitrary or absurd, they can take corrective action, but abuse of discretion is a rare finding.
LACK OF SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE: In reviewing the evidence relied on to reach the trial court’s judgment, the appellant judges will consider whether sufficient evidence was exhibited in the course of the trial. Generally, the judges will withhold reaching this conclusion unless the evidence cited is contradictory to the final judgment or is so thoroughly lacking as to be almost non-existent.
DE NOVO: This means “anew” or looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes. This type of review is limited to questions of law. For instance, if a judge incorrectly interpreted a law on contracts and the judgment accrued from this misinterpretation, the appellant court can step in and take action.
Turn to Experienced Legal Counsel
If you’ve lost a civil lawsuit, which you believe to have resulted from legal error or prejudice, you certainly have the right to file an appeal. You need to weigh the potential benefits of an appeal against the ongoing reality of being tied up in further lengthy legal proceedings.
Bring your case to the Law Offices of David H. Schwartz, INC if you’re anywhere in or around the Greater San Francisco Bay Area. Attorney David Schwartz will review the court proceedings with you to pinpoint the basis for an appeal and then develop a powerful argument countering the legal basis for the judgment reached in your trial.