In my last blog entry, we discussed what an appeal is and how the appeals system works. Now that you know what an appeal is, you may be asking yourself, should I appeal my case? It is important to note that appeals are uncommon and most clients will not appeal their case, but there are some instances where it may be worth it to appeal. There are several factors you will want to consider in deciding whether to appeal your case. The first factor to consider is whether it is proper to appeal your case. Not all decisions made by the Circuit Court are appealable to the Appellate Court. Rather, your case must be “ripe” for appeal before you can file the appeal. In most cases, a case is “ripe” for appeal if the Circuit Court has made a final decision on all issues and has issued a final judgment. There are some limited circumstances in which you can appeal your case before the Circuit Court makes a final decision, but these are only under limited circumstances.
If you have a final judgment, the next factor you will want to consider is your likelihood for success on appeal. A party typically files an appeal if they feel the Circuit Court has erred in some way, whether factually or legally. Although there is no fool-proof way to determine your success on appeal and no attorney can guarantee a win or a loss, it is important to determine whether an appeal will be worth the effort, as appeals are often time consuming and costly. One way to try to determine how successful you will be on appeal is to determine what standard of review the Appellate Court will use in reviewing the Circuit Court's alleged error. The standard of review is a legal concept that describes the level of deference or discretion the Appellate Court will give the Circuit Court in determining whether the Circuit Court made a mistake. There are several different standards of review that will apply under different circumstances, and each standard of review provides a different level of deference to the Circuit Court.
For example, de novo is one of the stricter standards of review, which provides no deference to the Circuit Court's decision. In other words, if your standard of review is de novo, the Appellate Court will review the case as if it is a brand new case. This standard of review is applied in cases that only involve questions of law, or legal errors. On the contrary, abuse of discretion is one of the more relaxed standards of review, and is among the most common used. This standard of review requires the Appellate court to review the Circuit Court's decision and ask itself, is the Circuit Court's decision so arbitrary or unreasonable that no reasonable person would agree with the Circuit Court?
The standard of review is important because the law provides room for interpretation and the more relaxed the standard of review, the less likely the Appellate Court will find the Circuit Court has erred. For instance, in my own practice, I had a case where the Appellate Court stated in their opinion that they disagreed with the Circuit Court's decision on a certain issue, but because the standard of review was abuse of discretion, determined that the Circuit Court's ruling on that issue was not unreasonable. Thus, the Appellate Court did not overturn the Circuit Court's decision on that issue and the Circuit Court's decision stood. This means that it is possible for the Appellate Court to disagree with the Circuit Court, but still find that the Circuit Court's decision is valid. Perhaps this is frustrating, but it is one of many possibly outcomes at the Appellate Court, and is a prime example of why the decision to appeal should not be taken lightly.
The final factor I typically discuss with clients is cost. Simply put, appeals can be very expensive for the party requesting the appeal. If a party requests the Appellate Court to review their decision, not only will they likely incur attorney's fees, but there are also considerable costs involved. For instance, the party appealing the case is responsible for making sure the Appellate Court has a full record of the Circuit Court's decision for its review. This may require the appealing party to purchase hundreds of dollars in transcripts and pay hundreds in fees to have the record prepared for the Appellate Court. As a result, it is important to perform a cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to appeal your case. If the estimated cost of your appeal outweighs the fruits of a possible victory, then it may be best to leave it alone. However, if success on appeal could result in a large amount of money being awarded to you, or perhaps, a large judgment entered against you being vacated, then, depending on the other factors discussed, it may be worth it spend a little more to see if you are successful on appeal.
Appellate law is detailed and complex. Filing an appeal requires extensive paperwork that must be timely submitted, otherwise the appeal is waived. Thus, if you are considering appealing your case, I would highly recommend discussing your decision with an attorney right away rather than trying to appeal on your own. If you are considering appealing your case, feel free to contact me at 312-648-6155 for your free consultation.