You expected to achieve a particular outcome in court. You worked hard preparing for it. You and your attorney analyzed the facts of your case, gathered documents, and obtained statements from witnesses. You were confident that you were correct in your interpretation of the law and that justice would prevail. The other side refused to settle, so you went ahead and presented your witnesses and documents to the judge at trial. Then, the rude surprise came. The judge disagreed with you and ruled in favor of the opposing party, or gave you an outcome you didn’t want. What now? How can you resolve your case believing that you had the law on your side?
Here are a few important tips to consider if you choose to appeal a final judgment in your case.
First, what is an “appeal?” An appeal is a person’s request to seek review of a final judgment by a higher court. Blacks Law Dictionary, 5th Edition. Typically, in civil cases, this involves someone appealing a circuit court or trial court’s final judgment to the higher appellate court in one of the five districts here in Illinois. Because every final judgment of a circuit court in a civil case is appealable as a matter of right, under Supreme Court Rule 301 there is no restriction on seeking an appeal as a remedy to a final and appealable judgment that you may wish to challenge. There are only requirements that must be met before you can reach a determination made by the appellate court regarding the substance of your case.
Second, can you appeal? If your case was resolved by way a settlement agreement or an agreed order, the answer is probably not. In the case of Marriage of Rolseth, a case litigated by Daniel J. Kollias, the appellate court made it clear that agreements can only be undone in very narrow circumstances, such as where there is fraud, duress, or mutual mistake of fact.
Supreme Court Rule 304 makes it clear that generally speaking, only final judgments which adjudicate all pending claims can be appealed. There are exceptions for interlocutory appeals set forth in Rules 306 and 307, and certain specific orders that can be appealed under Rule 304(b). However, for the overwhelming majority of issues, no appeal can be filed until all pending claims have been addressed by the trial court.
Third, what is the procedure to appeal? The general procedural requirements of an appeal can be found under Article III of the Illinois Supreme Court Rules. These are where the guidelines are illustrated for both appellants and appellees to follow. Important considerations must be given deadlines associated with certain filings, because missing deadlines can very well mean the end of your appeal. While these deadlines may seem arbitrary, the rules are meant to be followed and appeals are routinely dismissed for failure to act in a timely manner. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated.
Considering the importance of meeting your deadlines, the first most important deadline that should be complied with is your Notice of Appeal. According to the Supreme Court Rule 303, your Notice of Appeal must be filed with the clerk of the circuit court within 30 days after the entry of the final judgment appealed from or, if post-judgment motion filed, 30 days after entry of the order disposing of the last pending post-judgment motion.
The Notice of Appeal, albeit a rather simple and straight forward document, is the starting point to initiating your appeal. It should contain the appropriate caption bearing the title of the case, naming and designating the parties, and specify the judgment or parts therein or other orders you are appealing from and the relief that you are seeking from the reviewing court.
After you file the Notice of Appeal, there are several documents which must be filed to advance your case. Below is a list of important documents, all of which must be filed according to a strict set of deadlines:
Notice of Filing of Notice of Appeal (filed in appellate court)
Docketing Statement (filed in appellate court)
Request for Report of Proceedings (filed by circuit court)
Report of Proceedings (filed by circuit court)
Record (filed by circuit clerk)
Appellant’s Brief (filed in appellate court)
Appellee’s (opponent’s) Brief (filed in appellate court)
Reply Brief (filed in appellate court)
Assuming all of that is done in a timely manner, the case will be decided by the appellate court. The question then becomes whether you win your appeal. Of course, it depends. It is important to consider that the scope of the appellate court’s responsibility is to review the circuit court’s application of the facts and evidence that was heard and considered at trial to existing law. In other words, the appellate court’s job is to look at what the trial court looked at, and determine whether the trial court ruled correctly. The appellate court will generally not consider any facts, evidence, or argument that was not presented to the trial court. In other words, it is not a “do over.”
There is no guarantee of a successful outcome, and even if you do succeed, the appellate court may remand your case back to the circuit court for further proceedings. Thus, the date in which your case is finally resolved may be far off in the distant future.
Success at anything is often a matter of organization, and the process favors a well-prepared appellant. Often, the best preparation is to present a thorough case at trial with the understanding that taking shortcuts or omitting evidence may severely handicap you if an appeal is required. On appeal, it is not enough to have complied with the appropriate deadlines and written persuasive arguments in your briefs. Winning on appeal means demonstrating to the appellate court that the circuit court got it wrong.
The attorneys at Kollias, P.C. have collectively litigated close to 40 appellate cases, including several which have resulted in published opinions, including the following:
If you are thinking about appealing a final judgment in your case, please contact us.