Lawsuits begin in the trial court. For that reason, the immediate focus remains in the trial court where the case will be decided by the jury or the trial judge. However, once the judgment is entered or the verdict reached, the focus quickly shifts to the appeals court. In many cases, what happens in the trial court is just “round one” and cases are often truly decided on appeal. This post will help to identify the types of issues considered when there is an appeal.
If you’ve received a negative ruling in the trial court, you are not out of options. State and federal trial court decisions are subject to review by a court of appeals. Generally, when an appellate court reviews a decision, it looks for two things: 1) legal error; or 2) an improper finding of fact. Your chance of success on appeal increases when there is a significant legal error because a reviewing court will give a de novo review of the issue. In other words, you get a brand new “trial” on the issue presented when it involves a legal issue and not merely an interpretation of the evidence offered at trial.
The chance of success on appeal decreases when there are no significant legal questions to resolve. In this situation, the trial court’s findings of fact will be respected unless “manifest error” is found. However, other grounds for an appeal do exist including, but not limited to, refusal to admit relevant evidence, refusal to admit an expert’s testimony, providing improper jury instructions or, in some cases, judicial bias toward a party.
It is also important to know that your right to seek appellate relief is not only available after a trial. When a party can show that the trial court has made an error which will cause prejudice if not corrected before trial or demonstrate that a reversal of the ruling would resolve the entire claim against that party, they can file a “writ application.” While similar to an appeal, a writ is a streamlined process. When the case presents a new or novel issue of law, the chances of having the appellate court consider the writ increases dramatically.
The written brief–the appellate brief (for final judgments) and the writ application (for pre-trial rulings)–is the centerpiece of any request for appellate relief. It is critical that the brief be well-reasoned and persuasive. Appeals often involve oral argument, but, even then, the arguments typically center around issues addressed in the written briefs.
When you are in the throes of the fight in the trial court, it is important to remember that another “round” may be coming. Keeping this focus helps to preserve and develop arguments and evidence that may be needed on appeal. Whether you won or lost in the trial court, know that the real fight may just be beginning.
Reynolds LeBlanc is an Associate Attorney with Keogh Cox heavily involved in appellate practice. The attorneys at Keogh Cox have decades of combined experience representing clients in federal, state, and administrative appeals. The appeals practice by Keogh Cox attorneys has resulted in positive, landmark rulings in a variety of settings to include: the proper scope of who can administer interventional pain management (Spine Diagnostics Ctr. of Baton Rouge, Inc. v. Louisiana State Bd. of Nursing ex rel. Louisiana Dep’t of Health & Hosps., 2007-0183 (La. 3/16/07), 952 So. 2d 702, handled by John P. Wolff III, Chad A. Sullivan and Nancy Brehm Gilbert); the extent to which employers will be protected by the immunity provided by worker’s compensation (Reeves v. Structural Pres. Sys., 98-1795 (La. 3/12/99), 731 So. 2d 208, handled by Gracella Gail Simmons and Collin J. LeBlanc); the establishment of mitigation defenses available to attorneys in legal malpractice claims (MB Indus., LLC v. CNA Ins. Co., 2011-0303 (La. 10/25/11), 74 So. 3d 1173, handled by Gracella Gail Simmons and Collin J. LeBlanc); and, the preservation of water rights under the Federal Powers Act (Simmons v. Sabine River Auth. of Louisiana, 134 S. Ct. 1876, 188 L. Ed. 2d 912 (2014), handled by John P. Wolff III and Nancy Brehm Gilbert), along with others.