Appeals are the usual course available to a [losing] litigant party who believes that the trial court has committed an error. In short, an appeal is a direct attack on the judgment or proceeding from which the appeal stems.
Attorney Stanley P. Lieber has handled numerous civil appeals and thousands of civil litigation matters. He has been in practice since 1973 and offers free consultations for all types of civil disputes, in matters litigation has not yet commenced and in cases where an appeal is the only viable option.
There are generally two possible methods by which appellate courts can review lower court judgments and orders:
1. On a direct appeal from the judgment or order; or
2. On a petition for extraordinary writ.
The threshold issue is whether the particular judgment or order is appealable and if so, by whom, (i.e. who has standing to bring the appeal).
Generally, only final judgments and orders are appealable. This principle is oft referred to as the one final judgment rule. A final judgment or order is one that completely concludes the case in the trial court. A case concludes where no issue is left for future consideration in the trial court. On the other hand, a judgment is interlocutory (and usually not appealable unless made so by an applicable statute) where an additional judicial action in the trial court is necessary for a final determination of the parties’ rights.
Final judgments generally include most judgments entered, such as an order granting summary judgment after a trial, or an order of dismissal of the entire action upon sustaining a demurrer with prejudice. For reference, a non-exhaustive list of appealable judgments and orders may be found under California Code of Civil Procedure § 904.1.
Another component of appellate court jurisdiction, which warrants attention, is the issue of standing (the right to even be a participant in a lawsuit). In addition to the requirement that the judgment or order be appealable, the party that wishes to appeal must also have proper standing. Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure § 902, only parties personally affected have standing to file an appeal. As such, to have standing, the appellant, (i.e., the appealing party), must:
A court of appeals essentially answers the question: did the trial court make a legal error in deciding the case? As such, the court of appeals does not hear testimony from a live witness, nor will it consider new evidence. Rather, the court only reviews the written record generated by the trial court proceedings (i.e., the evidence admitted at trial, the transcripts of testimony given, as well as the affidavits and discovery materials filed with the court).
In reviewing the actions and determinations of the trial court, the court of appeals will show greater deference to the trial court on some issues. Thus, generally, the type of issue raised by the appealing party and the standard of review applied will affect the likelihood an appeal will succeed. Rulings on questions of law are reviewed de novo, which ultimately means that the court of appeals affords no deference to the action of the trial court.
Therefore, review under a de novo standard is more likely to result in a reversal. The issues reviewed de novo are purely legal issues, as opposed to factual issues, (e.g., what law applies? vs. what are the facts in this case?). A court of appeals will review some trial court actions, (e.g., admission or exclusion of evidence at trial, or the denial of additional discovery), under an abuse of discretion standard. Here, the appellate court does not focus on whether or not the trial court’s decision was correct/incorrect.
Rather, the appellate court is reviewing the decision, (and the process which resulted in reaching that decision) to see whether it “falls within a broad range of permissible conclusions.” The appellate court will allow such rulings to stand it finds reasonable (even if it would not have made the same ruling in the first instance). Id. As such, there is only a small likelihood that an appellate court will reverse a trial court action or decision under an abuse of discretion standard. Another important limit on the inherent power of an appellate court is their inability to judge the credibility of evidence or witnesses presented at trial.
The court of appeals generally will not rule that a witness was not credible or compare the relative strength of evidence proffered by the parties, (i.e., plaintiff and defendant). In short, the court of appeals will affirm a verdict if there is any evidence to support it. Thus, the appealing party must demonstrate that trial record contains no evidence to support the verdict rendered, which can be extremely difficult.