In an appeal, a higher court reviews a trial court decision. In order to consider an appeal, a higher court must conclude that there was a legal or procedural error leading up to the earlier decision. In civil cases (including business litigation), this process may be initiated by a motion or at the end of a trial. The appeals court will examine the lower court's decision, and then decide whether to sustain, modify, or reverse that decision. While trial courts consider the facts and apply law, appellate courts generally only review legal questions. The review of a case on appeal depends on the presentation of questions about legal interpretation, application of the law, and procedural matters. Factual disputes are generally not considered on appeal.
Timing and ability differ between states, and between state and federal courts. Some state courts allow appeal of issues before the end of a trial. In most states, a decision can only be appealed once. In any appeal, it is vital to consult an attorney with experience in appellate law.
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The number and type of appellate courts also differs between states. Often, population and the volume of business transactions determine the number and level of appellate courts in a jurisdiction. While some states have only three levels of courts (trial, appellate, and supreme or superior), others have five or six. Some states also maintain specialized appellate courts for specific issues such as taxes.
The federal legal system has a different appellate method. The lowest level of federal court is the district court, which considers factual issues as well as law. The eleven circuit courts deal only with legal questions and generally only review district court decisions. The highest federal appellate court is the Supreme Court, which has discretionary power to choose which appeals it will hear.
It is also possible for businesses to pursue legal questions before an administrative agency such as the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Courts do not usually review decisions made by administrative agencies, under the assumption that those agencies have an expertise in the matter under consideration. However, the courts do reserve the power to examine these decisions.
The appeals process is complicated and its rules and procedures vary between states and situations. A business lawyer with experience in appellate law can inform you of your options and serve as a vital source of counsel and information.