Questions & Answers
Below are a few questions that I receive from time to time from people seeking legal help and even just curious friends and family members. Read on and see if I’ve answered your questions. If you have any that I haven’t covered, feel free to reach out through my contact form.
What is an appeal?
An appeal is a case that a litigant initiates after receiving a decision from a trial court or other similar tribunal. When a person has a dispute with someone else and wants an authoritative resolution, that person typically goes to a trial court first to have the dispute resolved. An appeal directly challenges the decision of the trial court.
What happens when I appeal a court order?
An appeal is an opportunity to show a higher court that a lower court made a significant mistake and to get the higher court to correct that mistake. It’s not a second trial or a chance to present new evidence or legal theories.
If you want to appeal a court order, you should first figure out if the order is appealable. Once you determine that the order is appealable, you must file a notice of appeal. This notice typically must be filed with the court that issued the order you want to challenge, but there are exceptions to this rule. The deadline for filing a notice of appeal is strict. If you miss the deadline, you have usually lost your right to appeal.
Once the notice of appeal is timely filed, you must ensure that a record of what happened in the trial court is prepared and sent to the appellate court, and you must file a brief arguing, with specificity, that the trial court made some substantial error or errors that affected your rights or the outcome of the case. The opposing party will have an opportunity to respond, and typically, you will have an opportunity to reply to that response. Sometimes, an oral argument will be scheduled for your case, and there may be motions filed along the way to a final resolution of the appeal.
Once all briefs have been filed, or the deadlines to file briefs have passed, the appellate court will consider the merits of your case. If your case is in a district court of appeal in Florida, a three-judge panel will decide it. If it’s in the supreme court, the full seven-member court will decide the case. Once the court has had sufficient time to consider your appeal, it will issue a decision. If it appears that the court has overlooked a point of law or fact that you presented in your case, you may file a motion for rehearing.
Once the rehearing motion has been ruled on, or the deadline for filing a motion for rehearing has passed, the appellate court will issue a mandate to the lower court. The mandate makes the appellate court’s decision final and directs the lower court to take any action necessary to comply with the appellate court’s decision. The trial court may need to take no action if the appellate court’s decision is to uphold or “affirm” the lower court’s decision. Or, if the appellate court has found a harmful error, it may direct the trial court to hold a new trial, make new or additional findings based on the proceedings that already took place, enter judgment in favor of the party who appealed, or just change some aspect of the order that was appealed. There are many possible outcomes of an appeal depending on the legal issues raised.
How long does an appeal take?
It’s impossible to predict the exact length of time an appeal will take, but you should know that appeals can involve a lot of waiting. The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure establish deadlines for the filing of an initial brief, and those deadlines vary greatly depending on the nature of the case. For example, the initial brief is due within 15 days of the filing of the notice of appeal in some cases, and it is due within 70 days of the filing of the notice of appeal in others. In some cases, the initial brief is due within 30 days of transmission of the record or appointment of counsel (where applicable). After the initial brief is filed, the opposing party has a certain amount of time to file an answer brief, and there is additional time to file a reply brief. It is not uncommon for parties on both sides to receive extensions of time to file their briefs.
Once all the briefs are filed, you must wait for the appellate court to reach its decision. In Florida, appellate courts strive to make a decision within 180 days of the date the last brief is filed, but that is just a goal, not a hard-and-fast rule.
If you consult me to determine your options for an appeal, I can provide specific information about the deadlines applicable to your case, but the exact length of time an appeal will take is generally not predictable.
What are the chances of winning an appeal?
No one can guarantee success on appeal. Frankly, when you take an appeal in Florida, no matter whether you represent yourself and no matter who represents you, the presumption on appeal is not in your favor. The idea is that trial courts of this state operate fairly and knowledgeable and will usually get the right result, or at least a result that is within their discretion.
But people do win appeals. Whether the cost of taking an appeal up is worth it depends on your individual circumstances. An attorney can help you in a cost-benefit analysis of taking an appeal by advising you of potential arguments that can be raised in your appeal, the relative likelihood of success of those arguments, and what relief those arguments could yield if successful. An attorney can also help you make the best presentation to the appellate court by strategically limiting the issues presented to the appellate court to the ones most likely to succeed and by then using legal reasoning, research, and writing skills to explain the issues clearly and cogently to the appellate court within the page limitations set by the courts for briefing.
Will you handle my case that is not an appeal?
No, I focus on appeals. Handling transactional cases or cases at the trial level requires different knowledge and skills. Therefore, I would not be as efficient at handling these matters as another attorney whose practice is devoted to them.
Lawton Law, PLLC
Located in Tallahassee. Able to Handle Appeals throughout Florida.
The information provided on this site is not legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation. The use of this site, including its contact form, does not constitute an attorney-client relationship with this firm or its attorney.