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How do I File a Civil Appeal?

By Christopher John
Updated May 17, 2024
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To file a civil appeal, review the rules that control the appeal process for a particular jurisdiction, comply with the established deadlines, prepare the appropriate documents, and pay the filing fee. Each jurisdiction has its own unique rules that regulate how and when a party may file a civil appeal.

Typically, a person appealing a civil case must must first file a notice of appeal. A notice of appeal is a document that notifies the opposing party, the trial court, and the appellate court that a party intends to file an appeal. Since appeals can be quite complex, however, they are most often handled by a lawyer rather than than a party in the case.

Most jurisdictions refer to the rules that control the civil appeal process as the rules of appellate procedure. These rules provide specific instructions that a litigant — who is called an appellant — must follow to file a civil appeal. It is critical to understand these rules and to meet the deadlines established under the rules. Missing a deadline may result in the appellate court automatically refusing to grant any reconsideration of the lower court decision. These rules may also contain the official forms that an appellant needs to fill out and submit to the court. 

If the rules do not contain forms, then the rules may instead specify the format of documents. That is, spacing, margins, and other formal requirements including whether the appellant must attached sworn statements in addition to presenting specific reasons why the lower court decision should be reversed. In some jurisdictions, a civil appeal may be filed electronically. The rules may also describe what types of information a person must include in the filing. The fundamental requirement is for the appellant to explain what legal error or errors the lower court made. In addition to filing the documents in court, the appellant may also be required to hire a court officer to serve a duplicate set of documents on the opposing party. 

Most jurisdictions won't hear a civil appeal merely because one party is unhappy with a lower court decision. Instead, rules often only authorize an appellate court to hear an appeal under specific conditions. Examples of a lower court error could be the refusal of the trial judge to hear a witness, admitting or not admitting a piece of evidence, or failing to apply controlling law to the case.

A civil appeal must also be accompanied by the statutory court filing fee. Fees vary by jurisdiction. In instances of financial hardship, an appellant may apply for a waiver of the fee.


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