When the Trial Judge Errs: Basic Guide to a Florida Civil Appeal

appeals process
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Your client received an unfavorable final order. You believe you have a solid basis for an appeal. You filed a timely notice of appeal to start the appeals process. Now what? A brief explanation of the procedure for litigating an appeal of a final order in a standard civil case in Florida’s state courts follows, with an emphasis on ensuring a proper record and meeting deadlines for briefs and other motions. Some different rules apply to other types of orders, and some kinds of nonfinal orders cannot be appealed but may be reviewable by filing a petition for a writ. Always consult the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure to discern the procedure applicable to a particular case.

Once the notice of appeal is filed, an appellant should immediately begin making sure the appellate court will have a proper record upon which to evaluate the issues. The responsibility to ensure a correct record generally rests with the appellant. Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.200(a) lists the documents the clerk of the trial court includes by default in the record on appeal that will be sent to the appellate court. An appellant who wishes to include additional documents in the record that are not listed in rule 9.200(a), or to exclude documents, must file directions to the clerk within 10 days of filing the notice of appeal as provided in rule 9.200(c).

Transcripts are usually a critical part of the record on appeal. Rule 9.200(b) contains the procedure for using a designation to the court reporter to obtain transcripts not already on file. As a practical matter, obtaining transcripts of long trials or multiple hearing dates can require large expenses associated with litigating an appeal. The rules therefore allow a party wishing to save some of the costs of transcripts to make independent financial arrangements to obtain the necessary transcripts, then copy them and serve them on the other party. Rule 9.200(b)(2) contains the procedure and requires service of the designated transcripts in both electronic and paper form. The party obtaining the transcript must make sure the transcripts are properly filed with the appellate court.

An appellant that has ensured a proper record in an appeal of a final order in a civil case can focus on preparing the initial brief, which is due 70 days from the time the appellant filed the notice of appeal in the trial court. Fla.R.App.P. 9.110(f). An appellant who fails to file a timely initial brief risks sanctions that could include dismissal of the appeal. The answer brief is due within 20 days after the appellant serves the initial brief. Fla.R.App.P. 9.210(f) The appellant’s reply brief, if one is served, must be served 20 days after the answer brief. Motions for extension of time to serve briefs may be filed if necessary. Some appellate courts allow parties to obtain extensions by filing agreed notices, in certain cases and circumstances, if the other party agrees to the extension. A party who desires oral argument in the appeal must request oral argument in a separate written document served at, or prior to, the time the party serves its last brief. Fla.R.App.P. 9.320. A party must make any motion for attorney’s fees prior to the time for service of the reply brief. Fla.R.App.P. 9.400.

Some smaller aspects of the appeal process differ depending on which of Florida’s five district courts of appeal (DCAs) will be deciding the case. For instance, some DCAs require the parties to file a docketing statement that provides the court some general information about the case. Other DCAs do not require a docketing statement. Also, some DCAs grant oral argument as a matter of right if a party requests it, while others screen cases to decide which will get oral argument. The best source of information about these minor differences is usually the website of the particular DCA that will be deciding your appeal.

This article provides you a basic description of the appeals process and the duties of the appellant in that process. Good luck with your appeal!

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