How to Appeal a Court Order

Four Parts:Deciding Whether to AppealFiling the AppealPreparing and Filing the Appeal BriefFulfilling Other Requirements

If you lose a court case, you might want to consider appealing the decision ("judgment"). In an appeal, you're basically asking a higher authority (an “appellate” court) to review the case, and to decide that the decision was a mistake.[1] The person who is appealing the judgment is known as the “appellant” (sometimes called “petitioner”), and the other participant is the “appellee” (sometimes called “respondent”).[2] This article only applies to appeals in “civil” cases, not criminal cases. A typical civil case is where you sue somebody—or he or she sues you—looking for money, such as for an injury in an automobile accident, or not living up to a contract.

Part 1
Deciding Whether to Appeal

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    Determine if it’s worth it. Appeals are very complicated. They require legal research and the ability to write persuasively. They’re also expensive. Not only will you have to pay fees to start the appeal, there's also a charge to obtain a written record (transcript) of the trial. You'll probably incur other out-of-pocket costs as well, such as for printing and copying documents.You could be looking at hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars.[3] So you’ll need to determine if it’s worth your time and money to file an appeal.
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    Be aware of the kinds of decisions you can appeal. As a general rule, you can only appeal a “final” judgment, which means a judgment that ends the case. A jury verdict or a judge’s decision at the end of a trial would be considered a final judgment for purposes of an appeal.[4]
    • If the court doesn't provide a written judgment, and if you're not sure whether a decision in your case is final, ask the judge to clarify the status.
    • If you want written proof of a judgment, you can ask the court clerk for a document known as an Abstract of Judgment.[5]
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    Choose which issues to appeal. An appellate court’s job is basically to decide whether the trial judge properly understood and applied the law that controls your type of case.[6] Therefore, you should try to limit your appeal to these kinds of issues. For example, was a tenant’s failure to pay rent on time a legal reason for the landlord to evict him or her?
    • If the law says it wasn’t a legal reason, but the judge ruled that it was, then the judge made a mistake, and this could be the basis for a successful appeal.
    • If the issue only involves a factual dispute, such as where the landlord claims the rent was late, but the tenant says it wasn't, that's simply "he said-she said". This is not something an appellate court would normally get into.
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    Consider consulting an attorney. If you decide to appeal, or if you need help making the decision, seriously consider speaking with an attorney, even if you represented yourself at the trial court level. The appeal process can be confusing and very stressful for a non-lawyer.

Part 2
Filing the Appeal

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    Find the appeal rules that apply to your case. These rules will differ depending on whether your case was in a federal court or a state court. To appeal from a federal court’s decision, you can find rules and Notice of Appeal forms at For a state appeal, most—if not all—states have a website for their courts, which usually will have appeal information and forms. You can also check with the trial court clerk’s office for assistance in finding the information you’ll need.
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    Make sure you completely fill out the Notice of Appeal. Required information may vary, depending on the court, but typically will include:
    • the name of the higher court to which you’re taking the appeal
    • the names of the participants in the trial (known as plaintiffs and defendants)
    • the case number (sometimes called a “docket” number)
    • the date of the judgment being appealed
    • a statement that you’re appealing that judgment, and
    • your name.[7]
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    Meet the court deadline. It’s extremely important that you follow the court rules that control when the Notice of Appeal must be deposited (filed) with the court. If you miss the deadline, you may very well lose your right to appeal.[8]Deadlines will differ, depending on the court.
    • Federal court appeals must normally be taken within 30 days of the judgment.[9]
    • State courts vary, but the time to file an appeal will usually range from 30 to 60 days from the date of judgment.[10]
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    File the Notice of Appeal. The notice must be deposited with the court, together with the required filing fee. You may be permitted to file the notice electronically, depending on the court.[11]
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    Pay close attention to other required actions. In addition to meeting court deadlines, there will be several other things you must do under the court’s appeal rules. For example, you’ll have to notify the other people involved in the law suit about the Notice of Appeal. (Also known as "serving" the notice.) The appeal rules will let you know the acceptable ways to do this.[12]

Part 3
Preparing and Filing the Appeal Brief

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    Read the rules to see what is required. A “brief” is a document you must write and give to the court and the other people involved in the appeal. Generally speaking, it will contain a statement of what the case is about, what previously happened in the case, and your legal arguments supporting your position. The court’s appeal rules will tell you what the brief must contain, and how it must be formatted. (Such as maximum number of pages and permitted font size.)[13]
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    Research the law. You’ll need to convince the appellate court that the trial judge made a mistake. To do that most convincingly, you’ll have to include references to prior court cases that interpreted the issue in your case the same way you’re asking the appellate court to interpret it.[14] This is an area where the assistance of any attorney would be very helpful.
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    Write the brief. Since you will likely have only a small number of pages in which to present your entire position, focus on the specific issue or issues you’re asking the court to decide. Using the landlord-tenant example in Part 1, Step 3 above, you would focus your brief on your state’s landlord-tenant laws, and why they don’t support a landlord evicting someone for failing to pay rent on time. Review the brief to make sure it’s free of spelling and grammar errors.
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    File the brief. Once the brief is completed, you’ll file it with the appellate court on or before the filing deadline. Make sure you understand and observe all the filing requirements in the appellate court rules. These will include such items as the number of copies you need to make, and how to serve the brief on the other persons involved.

Part 4
Fulfilling Other Requirements

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    Provide the court with a transcript of the trial. You’ll need to send the court a record of everything that happened at your trial, including testimony of the witnesses, and documents or other evidence (such as photos) that were used in the trial. All trial proceedings are recorded, either by a court reporter or a recording device. When you appeal, you’ll need to obtain a typed copy of those proceedings (a transcript).
    • You can obtain a copy of the transcript by making a written request to the court's transcription office. The courts provide request forms on site and/or online.[15]
    • Be aware of the date by which you have to provide the transcript to the court and the other people involved in the appeal. The court will notify you of the timelines after you file your appeal.[16]
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    File a reply brief. Your opponent will have a chance to contest your arguments in his or her own brief (to be filed a certain number of days after yours). After that, you may be given a period of time in which to file a reply brief, in which you can respond to the other person’s arguments. [17] Check your appellate court’s rules to determine if the reply brief’s requirements differ from the original brief.
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    Attend the hearing. Many—though not all—appellate courts will allow you to argue your position in court, if you request it. (Known as “oral argument”.) However, it’s up to the court to decide whether or not to grant the request.[18] Usually, there will be two or more judges hearing your case. At the hearing, focus on the points that you set out in your brief, and limit yourself to what you think are your strongest arguments. If the judges want to hear more, they’ll tell you.
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    Appeal the decision further. If you lose your appeal, you can attempt to appeal to a higher court. Check the court rules to see the circumstances under which a further appeal is permitted, as well as what’s required to take that step if you choose to do so. [19]
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    Understand the effect of the appellate court’s decision. Winning your appeal doesn’t necessarily mean the case is over. While there are circumstances in which the appellate court’s decision may be final, many times the court will send the case back to the trial judge for a new trial, or for the trial judge to apply the correct law.[20]


  • Appellate courts may order mediation of the issue(s) being appealed. This is an attempt to settle the case, using a mediator. If the case settles, it will end the appeal process.[21]
  • Generally, trial judges are given a lot of leeway in making their decisions. An appellate court will usually only overturn a trial court’s decision if the judge made a “clear error of law”. What clear error is (or isn’t) depends on the facts of each case.[22]
  • Most times you’ll want to get the transcript early on in the appeal, since you may need to refer to it when writing the brief.
  • Before your hearing, try to watch some examples of oral arguments either live at the courthouse or online, to get an idea of what to expect.
  • The fact that you may not be able to argue your case in person emphasizes just how important your brief is. It may be the only chance you have to make your argument to the appellate court.

Sources and Citations


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Categories: Civil Litigation