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A Case on Appeal

The Minnesota Court of Appeals hears appeals or reviews approximately 2,000 cases each year from Minnesota district (trial) courts. Cases are resolved in three ways: published opinions, unpublished opinions, and or order opinions.

What is an appeal?

An appeal is a challenge to a decision made by a trial court or by an administrative agency. The goal of the appellant is to have the trial court’s decision reversed or nullified. Litigants have an automatic right to appeal a trial court decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. An appeal may be filed after the trial court has issued a judgment. An appeal is not a retrial or a new trial of a case. Appellate courts make decisions about legal and procedural errors made during the trial, not on rehearing the facts of the case. This is not a new trial or new hearing. To appeal a legal or procedural error made during the trial or hearing, the issue usually must have been raised in the trial court or before the administrative agency.

The Appeal Hearing

Once the necessary documents are filed by the parties, the court clerk will place the case on the court’s calendar, and a date will be set for a hearing. The parties will have the opportunity to present oral arguments, upon request. Oral argument is not necessary in all cases, and in these the case is decided on the merits of the written arguments (briefs) that were submitted to the court.

There is no jury in an appellate hearing. A panel of three judges hears each side at the hearing, and then they will review the records and briefs, and make a decision. Witnesses are not presented, so the only witness testimony that will be considered, if any, is that which was presented at the original hearing or trial. The attorneys will be given 15 minutes to explain the case and make their arguments. The appellant's attorney is able to take five minutes to rebut the respondent's version and arguments. The appellate panel will usually ask questions of the attorneys during their presentations.

The Appellate Opinion

The judges on the panel who hear the case will later prepare a written opinion. The written decision is mailed to the attorneys and released to the public (even so-called unpublished opinions are released). One party is either granted the relief requested, or the case is sent back (remanded) to the trial court or administrative agency for a new hearing or new finding. The respondent may consider other alternatives available to them, such as asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the case.

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