Navigating the appeals process can be tricky and emotional-  and you may feel your life is still not in your hands because it continues to be tied up in the courts.

Getting through trial was hard enough, right?  But now one side (maybe you, maybe the opposing party) has decided to appeal the trial court judge's decision... what now?

At Harrington Law we’ll help provide a way to resolution, walking with you throughout the process, guiding, preparing and advocating on your behalf.  

If you want to appeal your case, don't wait to speak to an attorney about it. A Notice of Appeal must be filed by a certain date.  Once that happens, the record must be put together-- the trial court sends their "record" (the court file) to the Court of Appeals. This includes any transcripts of the hearing(s) and all the pleadings that have been filed. 

Next, the party that filed the notice of appeal (the "appellant") drafts and files a brief- which is a memorandum arguing why the Court should change the judge's decision- that includes applicable law and the facts of your case.  Once that has been filed, the other side files their own brief.  The appellant gets to file another brief in reply if they choose.  Each step has a deadline, so you can, at least to this point, map out the length of time this appeal could take. There may be other steps along the way, such as motions, depending on the case.

Then, if either side requests, the court will hear oral argument on the case. This means the lawyers show up and explain in person why the judges should rule the way they are asking them to, answering the judge's questions.  The parties themselves do not have to go to oral argument, and usually do not (though they certainly can, as the argument is open to the public). The Court tells you when this will happen, and there is no deadline for it, though your lawyer may be able to estimate when it should take place. Then, you wait for the Court to decide.

There's a lot of waiting when your case is on appeal.  Wait while one side's lawyer drafts and files their brief; wait while the other side drafts and files their brief; wait until the date for oral argument (if either side wants oral argument); then waiting for the Court to issue its opinion.  There is no deadline for this last step-- the Court can take as long as it needs and sometimes opinions are not received for a full year. 

Here's a basic overview of  the appellate court system in Tennessee:

Courts of Appeal – Intermediate Appeals Courts

The Court of Appeals hears most appeals of civil cases from lower courts. The Court of Appeals meets in Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson, hearing cases originating in the lower courts from that grand division of the state. The Court of Appeals does not take testimony or hear evidence- it is not a “do over.”  It reviews what happened in the trial court by reviewing transcripts and evidence submitted there, and the lawyers on each side submit written briefs and sometimes there is oral argument, where the attorneys appear and answer questions from the bench.  Cases are not decided on the spot, but written opinions come out afterwards, sometimes months afterwards. 

Supreme Court – The Highest Appeals

The highest appellate court in Tennessee is the Supreme Court, located in Nashville (but occasionally meeting in other cities).  The Supreme Court is the final word on Tennessee law.  It chooses which cases it takes—you can’t just file an appeal, you have to ask that it take your case and give a reason why it should (the exceptions, where the Court must grant review, are those involving the death penalty, disciplinary actions against attorneys and tenure of teachers).

The highest appellate court chooses cases because, among other things,:

  • There is a “hole” in the law that needs repair;
  • The world has changed and an older Supreme Court decision no longer really applies;
  • A law passed by the Tennessee legislature has been challenged based on Tennessee’s Constitution.