The appellate process is somewhat complicated. One of the major confusions is when a party is allowed to appeal. The simple answer is that a party can appeal a judgment after the lower court has rendered a final decision. But, what makes a decision final? Does the decision include the case as a whole or just a single part of the case? An attorney can address these questions can specifically, but a short overview is helpful as well.
Just like the federal level, a party cannot appeal a decision without that decision being final in Louisiana. A final decision will decide all of the elements of the case. None of the issues will be excluded. The court looks at each issue and renders a decision for either one party or the other on every issue. Therefore, if the court does not address even one issue, then the decision cannot be final.
There is one exception to this rule that is provided in the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, which governs all of the court procedures in civil lawsuits for the state. The exception states that a decision can be final even if it does not resolve all the issues as long as the court specifically states that their decision is final and gives valid reasoning for that ruling.
In a recent case, an individual brought suit against their insurance company because he believed that the insurance company failed to replace his roof adequately. He asked for attorney’s fees and penalties. The insurance company argued with this claim and the court granted their motion to dismiss the individual’s suit. The court ruled only on the attorney’s fees and penalties, and not on the adequacy of the roof’s repairs. The lower court stated that this was a final judgment, but did not give reasoning for their declaration as required by Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure. Therefore, the Louisiana Court of Appeals had to determine whether the lower court was justified in their final judgment.
Occasionally, the court will also allow a single issue to be appealed because that issue is extremely important to the rest of the case. The Louisiana Supreme Court has listed several factors to determine whether one of these “partial judgments” can be considered a final judgment for the purpose of appeal. These factors include:
– The relationship between the issues that have been resolved and the issues that have not been addressed. Does one issue need to be determined in order to find out the other? For example, the court may say that the decision cannot be final if the lower court found that car A hit car B because they did not resolve whether car B was making an illegal turn at the time of the collision. Whether car B was making an illegal turn could be a deciding factor in the case and needs to be addressed.
– Whether the issue might resolve itself as the case progresses. In the insurance case mentioned above, if the insurance company was not found to be at fault, then there would be no need to appeal the attorney’s fees and penalties because the insurance company would not be liable. There is no need to appeal when the trial court can make these determinations on its own.
– Whether the appeals court might have to consider the issue again in the future. If the court finds that they will likely have to review the issue again when the entire case is brought on appeal then they will probably not review that particular issue. Reviewing it twice would be a waste of resources for both parties.
– Miscellaneous factors such as delay, shortening the time of trial, frivolity of competing claims, expense, and economic and solvency considerations. For example, if deciding one particular issue will resolve a whole line of issues, then the appellate court may decide that issue and send it back to the lower court to finish the case.
Obviously, the court has quite a bit of discretion to decide whether or not to resolve an issue. Experienced attorneys can sometimes pick out these issues ahead of time, which would give clients an edge on appeals proceedings.
The experienced attorneys at The Berniard Law Firm can help individuals through these types of insurance disputes and the appeals process. Call 1-866-574-8005 toll free and The Berniard Law firm will be happy to help with your legal issues.