How Does A Case Go on Appeal?

 I just had a trial in my case and I lost – the jury ruled against me.  The jury was wrong and I want to appeal all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  I can, right?

If a plaintiff or a defendant has a complaint about the way the trial was conducted or the end result of the trial or the judge’s ruling on post-trial motions, he or she can appeal. In Tennessee, the first appeal is to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals does not hear from witnesses. Rather, it looks at the transcript of the testimony given in the trial court, reviews the exhibits, and determines whether there were any errors than mandate a different result than reached in the trial court. The Court of Appeals can affirm the result reached in the trial court, order a new trial, and sometimes it can outright dismiss a case won by a plaintiff in the trial court.  It is extremely difficult to convince an appellate court to reverse a jury verdict by arguing only that they jury made the wrong decision.   In Tennessee, the appellate court will reach the same result as the jury if there is any material evidence supporting what the jury did.  The appellate court will not re-weigh the evidence – it just looks to see if there is any material evidence that supports the verdict.  If asked, the appellate court will also look at alleged errors of law.

A plaintiff or defendant that disagrees with the Court of Appeals decision about a case can ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to hear the case. The Tennessee Supreme Court does not hear every case it is asked to hear – it has the right to refuse to hear a case and does not have to give any reason for refusing to hear it. Usually, the Tennessee Supreme Court will not hear a case unless it presents an important issue of law.

Theoretically, the losing party can ask for the United States Supreme Court to hear the appeal. This is a complicated and expensive process. The United States Supreme Court will hear an appeal of a state court civil case only on extremely rare occasions. Most lawyers do not recommend that their clients incur the expense of asking for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court in state court civil cases absent very unusual circumstances.