It’s safe to say that I’ve been fortunate in my legal career. Among other blessings, I have also benefitted from representing clients who were consistently right on the law and facts and who were even justified from a moral and public-policy perspective. Yet, exasperatingly, I have not prevailed in all of the cases I have litigated. This strange disconnect between objective righteousness and subjective results can only be explained by one thing: judges sometimes make mistakes. And while our appellate-judicial system quite literally exists to catch and rectify those mistakes, even appellate judges and justices sometimes have an off day.
In a prior post, we discussed avoiding the death knell of an untimely notice of appeal in California’s state courts (see Jan. 29, 2021). But what else can go wrong with a notice of appeal? A lot.
Even though the notice of appeal is a decidedly simple filing, it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of mistakes that have been, and can be made. Fortunately, only a small subset of mistakes have been deemed un-correctable if the deadline to appeal has passed. See CRC 8.100(a)(2) (“The notice of appeal must be liberally construed.”); see also K.J. v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2020), 8 Cal.5th 875, 884 (“Once a notice of appeal is timely filed, the liberal construction requirement compels a reviewing court to evaluate whether the notice, despite any technical defect, nonetheless served its basic function—to provide notice of who is seeking review of what order or judgment—so as to properly invoke appellate jurisdiction.”).
While attorneys advocate, judges search for the right result. Here are three techniques for persuading judges by aiding them in their truth-seeking mission.
First, channel your audience’s inner “scientist.” Organizational psychologists refer to four archetypes: The preacher invokes fundamental values. The prosecutor tries to win an argument. The politician seeks to gain approval. And the skeptical scientist searches for the truth.
Can an order ruling on a motion or petition to compel arbitration in federal court be appealed? While federal appellate jurisdiction is generally limited to “final decisions” of the district courts (28 U.S.C. § 1291), the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) authorizes interlocutory appeals from orders denying arbitration. But the ability to appeal an order that compels arbitration depends on whether the district court dismisses the civil action. Before appealing an order on a motion or petition to compel arbitration, consider the following principles and pitfalls:
FAA appellate jurisdiction extends to orders “refusing a stay of any action under section 3” and orders “denying a petition under section 4 … to order arbitration to proceed.” 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(A)-(B). Section 16 promotes appeals from orders denying arbitration and limits appeals directing arbitration, consistent with Congress’s intent to have arbitrable disputes proceed quickly to arbitration. Bushley v. Credit Suisse First Bos., 360 F.3d 1149, 1153 (9th Cir. 2004). Thus, a district court’s denial of a motion or petition to compel arbitration will generally give a party the right to appeal.
Protecting the record for appeal is always a popular topic for legal education programs. After all, securing the hard-fought trial victory or turning around the case that went off the rails can depend on making sure a proper record is made for appellate review. But the most perfectly protected record is meaningless if the notice of appeal is untimely. Van Beurden Ins. Services, Inc. v. Customized Worldwide Weather Ins. Agency, Inc. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 51, 56 (absent timely filed notice of appeal, appellate courts lack jurisdiction). This is a tragedy that should never happen, but it does.
For state court appeals, the place to begin is California Rules of Court, rule 8.104. The “normal time” to appeal is 60 days. Two months to file the notice seems generous. But 60 days from when? And is it always 60 days? A careless examination of rule 8.104 can lead to problems. Fatal problems.
Sometimes in an appeal, the appellant takes a “kitchen sink” approach to briefing by advancing a number of baseless claims. Appellant has the burden of showing the lower court erred and may believe if it hurls enough contentions, maybe one will stick. Even though some of appellant’s arguments may have merit, that type of shotgun approach to appellate litigation can be frustrating and costly for a respondent tasked with investigating and responding to all of the arguments.
But, in California, a respondent facing such a scenario may—in the right kind of case—be able to recover a portion of its attorney fees for a “partially frivolous” appeal.
There are a handful of legal doctrines that can be difficult to comprehend, but the law of the case doctrine shouldn’t be one of them. Yet, time and again, the doctrine seems to perplex litigants, especially when deciding whether it is binding or discretionary, and whether it has any application to a trial court’s own prior rulings. The answers to both of these questions are important to understand before asking a court to revisit a prior ruling.
The basic rule is this: a ruling or holding stated in an appellate court opinion is binding on all inferior courts in all subsequent proceedings related to the same parties in the same action. (Morohoshi v. Pacific Home (2004) 34 Cal.4th 482, 491.)