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Appealing a Small Claims Court Decision

From Article of the Month — August, 2010

What is an appeal?

When you appeal a small claims decision, you are asking the next highest court to change the lower court’s decision. From this point on, who can file an appeal, how much it costs, and the length of time one has to file the appeal are dependent on the state or jurisdiction where you filed your claim. Furthermore, in some states the appeals process allows you to re-present your case; while in others this is not permissible. Instead the appeals court will make a decision based only on a review of the law, not the facts.

What states do not allow appeals?

While some states may be stricter than others, and the court’s purpose may be quite different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there are only 6 states that do not allow parties to appeal a small claims decision:

  • Arizona — allows no appeals but for good reason parties may “move to vacate.” A Motion to Vacate is a request to the court to withdraw a previous decision.
  • Connecticut — No appeals.
  • Hawaii — allows no appeals but the judgment may be set aside. Setting aside a judgment essentially means that the judgment is dismissed or voided out.
  • Louisiana — allows no appeal if your small claims case was heard in city court. However, if it was heard before the Justice of the Peace, then either side may appeal for a new trial.
  • North Dakota — No appeals.
  • South Dakota — No appeals.

Who can file an appeal?

In some states only the defendant may appeal. The plaintiff may not appeal the small claims court decision. In other states both parties have the right to appeal the decision; and in still others, the plaintiff may appeal the counter claim, but not the original one. In a few states, absolutely no appeals are permitted.

Furthermore, states differ on the appeals court’s consideration in the case. In many states an appeal will give rise to a new trial and all the evidence will be presented again. In other states the appeals court can review only the law and not the evidence.

What is the time limit to file an appeal?

States have their own judicial systems; and they have their own policies and procedures. State judicial systems have different ladders that must be climbed to reach the final court and differing names for each rung on the ladder. Similarly, they each have different time limits for filing cases and appeals. Appeals of small claims decisions generally must be filed within 3 to 45 days depending on the jurisdiction. The clock begins to run when the first level court hands down its ruling.

Where you file your appeal also has to do with the state where the original case was filed.

What does it cost to file an appeal?

The best practice here would be to contact your state or county or email or Contact, as fees are very different and change quite often. Fees for appeals range anywhere from $15 up to $200, and in some cases there is a deposit of $300.

The other cost involved in filing an appeal is a party’s decision to have an attorney present. While you may not be able to have a lawyer in some small claims courts, you are permitted one in appeals court because this is a formal court. This cost, however, may not be necessary, and it is a cost that could be avoided. Small claims cases, even on appeal, remain informal and most should be able to proceed without a lawyer. Additionally, these cases aren’t big money and the extra expense of a lawyer might not be worth it.

What happens at the appeals proceeding?

If your claim was filed in a state where an appeal is a case before a new judge who does not know what happened at the first trial, you will be re-presenting your entire case. Therefore, you will need to bring all of the evidence with you again, and this time will be your last chance as the decision of the appeals court is final.

If, on the other hand, your claim was filed in a state in which appeals are allowed only to review the law and to seek an injustice in the first trial, then your evidence will not be important as it will not be considered. These judges will only be looking for mistakes in the way the initial court applied the law.

The appeals court judge can award you attorney fees (if you hired a lawyer for the appeal), lost wages, and expenses for transportation. In addition, if you or your attorney can prove the appeal was filed in bad faith, it is possible that the judge can award significantly more in fees and additional losses. Each party should be sure that the appeal is filed in good faith and for a legitimate reason: that you can support your position, and that you are not attempting to just delay the inevitable.

What happens after the appeal?

If a notice of appeal is filed, there is no money owed until the appeals court makes its decision. If the defendant wins, there is no money owed at all. If the plaintiff wins, then collection procedures can go forward immediately as there is no 30 day waiting period after the appeal.

If the appeal is lost, the defendant will have to pay the original amount; perhaps even more if the judge determines that he should pay an amount which may includes additional fees or interest.

Should an appeal be filed?

Check with your state or county and determine who can file an appeal and what the appeals court judge will consider. Be sure that you have a legitimate reason for you appeal and are not simply looking for in a delay in having to pay the judgment. Look at the cost of the appeal, and whether you intend to hire an attorney. Is it going to be worth the money it will cost? If you feel you have a good case and the judgment makes the appeal worth the money, then proceeding may be a good choice.

More small claims articles and pre-litigation resources

We are available at any time to answer your questions regarding your possible claim, proceeding to court or mediation, and collecting your judgment. Contact us if you have questions or would like a recommendation for professional help in collecting your judgement.

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Tip of the Week

September 27, 2010

If you have been awarded a judgment, waited the 30 days required, sent a demand letter giving the debtor a time limit for paying his/her debt; what should you do if you still have no money? You know that the court can do little, but before you take steps to garnish wages or bank accounts, consider suggesting negotiation or mediation if the debtor gives any impression that they want to settle the matter.

More tips...

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