Florida Appeals FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
you need answers to before you file a civil appeal in Florida
1. What is an appeal
An appeal is a legal process designed to review decisions made by a trial court or lower tribunal to determine if a harmful legal error occurred that affected the outcome of the case. It is a right guaranteed in the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution for any party to a civil court case. (There are criminal appeals, too, but we do not address those here.) An appeal is not an opportunity to reargue the facts of a case or to reargue credibility of witnesses. There must be legal error, and that error must have been prejudicial to your case.
2. Do I have to be represented by a lawyer?
No, you don’t. Anyone can represent themselves if they choose. However, the appeals process is very complicated and it is wise to secure the services of an experienced attorney who specializes in appellate law. Anyone who does not properly follow the rules of appellate procedure could have their case dismissed without being considered.
3. How do you start an appeal?
In most instances, a Notice of Appeal is filed with the Clerk of the Court where the original case was decided. There is a strict deadline, usually 30 days. If you miss it, your case cannot be reviewed. That’s why timing is critical if you wish to appeal your case. There are state-levied filing fees that must be paid when the appeal is filed. There are also other fees to obtain a record of the proceedings in the trial court.
4. What are the steps in the process to appeal my case?
There are multiple steps in appealing a case. A mistake at any point could endanger your appeal. That is why it is so important to retain an experienced appeals attorney to handle your case. A record of your case must be obtained, and usually a transcript of the earlier proceeding must be secured, A brief is written to make the legal arguments about why the trial court’s decision was wrong as a matter of law.
Or, if a decision in your favor is being appealed by another party, a written argument is made why the trial court’s decision was correct and should not be reversed.
There are very strict rules about how a brief must be formatted and what it is to contain.
Oral argument is permitted only in selected cases.
5. How do I know if I can appeal my case?
There are certain requirements for a case to be appealed. Briefly, there must have been a legal and prejudicial error in the trial court. It could be an error of procedure, an error in the evidence, or an error in the application of the law. In any event, it must have affected the outcome of the trial. Also, the error must have been “preserved” by an objection in the trial court. An appellate attorney can help evaluate whether the requirements are met for an appeal. The District Court of Appeals will determine whether an error in the trial court was harmful to the outcome of your case.
6. Can my case be dismissed?
Yes. An appellate court might determine that the original court order cannot be appealed. In that event, the case would be dismissed. Dismissal could be based on the fact that the order you are appealing is not a “final” order, and it not appealable. Or your appeal was not filed “timely.”
7. How long does an appeals process take?
Given all the steps involved, an appeals process can be quite long, perhaps months. Patience is a virtue. Your appeals attorney will keep you up-to-date and will be your advocate throughout the procedure.
8. Who makes the decision in the case of an appeal?
Generally, your case will be decided by a three-judge panel at the District Court of Appeal. The panel will review the briefs and the record and conduct research as well. A decision based on the issues raised may be written and distributed to the parties involved.
9. What are the possible outcomes of my case?
The court could affirm the lower court’s ruling. In that instance, the original ruling of the lower court will remain in effect. The appeals court also could reverse the ruling of the lower court if it finds that the lower court’s decision was in error. It also could reverse and remand the case to the lower court for further action. The appeals court could find that the errors presented were not harmful to the case and did not affect the final decision. In that event, the lower court’s ruling would remain in effect.
10. What happens if I lose in the appeals court?
In some situations, if it appears that the appeals court has misunderstood or overlooked the law or the facts in the case, you may file for a rehearing. This is not an opportunity to argue the case again. In very rare instances, your case might be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court or the Supreme Court of the United States. This is a matter best discussed with your appellate attorney.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal
1525 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401-2399
(561) 242-2000 • www.4dca.org