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An Overview of the Federal Court Appeal Process

The federal court appeal process is a critical part of the U.S. justice system because it allows you to challenge unfavorable decisions made by lower courts or U.S. administrative agencies. While complicated and time-consuming, the appeals process plays an important role in correcting mistakes and issues that occur at the trial court level.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit handles a variety of cases, from patent law to international trade. This article reviews how appeals are processed in this court and how Record Press can help you format and file a compelling brief.

What is the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit?

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The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction in specific types of cases, including patents, government contracts, and international trade. Established in 1982, the Court of Appeals was formed by a merger of the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate division of the U.S. Court of Claims.  This court’s decisions often have wide-reaching effects on the legal standards applied country-wide. 

Can you appeal a federal court decision?

Yes, you can appeal a federal court decision. The federal court appeal process allows parties dissatisfied with a decision to seek a higher court’s review. Recent precedential examples include the following:

If you are unsatisfied with the result of a federal court decision, you can appeal the decision or take your case to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Court finds errors that could have impacted the verdict or ruling, they might overturn or remand the decision.

How much time to appeal a federal court decision?

In most cases, you have 30 days to file an appeal after a federal court has issued its final decision. This time frame applies to the majority of civil and criminal cases. However, if the United States government is a party in the case, this time frame extends to 60 days. It’s important to note that these deadlines are strict, and missing the deadline usually results in a loss of the right to appeal. Always confirm the specific deadlines applicable to your case.

The 7 steps of the Federal Circuit appeal process

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The federal appeals court process involves seven key stages. Understanding these steps can demystify how appeals are handled and what to expect during the process. 

Step 1: Preliminary matters

The preliminary matters stage is the first step in the federal court appeal process. To get started, the appealing party must file a Notice of Appeal or Petition for Review. Also, the following documents must be filed within 14 days from when the case is docketed:

  • The Entry of Appearance to identify the legal representatives in the appeal
  • The Certificate of Interest to disclose any potential conflicts 
  • The Docketing Statement to outline the basic case information 

For appeals originating from administrative agencies, the date the Certified List is served is especially important, as the deadline for the Appellant’s opening brief is calculated from the service date.

Step 2: Formal briefing

The formal briefing stage follows a specific schedule for filing briefs and appendices, as dictated by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 31 and Federal Circuit Rules 30 and 31. 

Within 7 days after the reply briefs are filed, the appellant or petitioner is responsible for filing a joint appendix, which includes relevant documents and evidence from the trial court. Sometimes, additional briefs such as an amicus (friend of the court), intervenor, or supplemental briefs are needed, but you require the court’s permission to file them. 

If you need assistance formatting your appeal brief or putting together your Joint Appendix, Record Press can help you craft a compliant document that effectively presents your case. Also, after the Joint Appendix is filed, the court issues a Notice of Paper Copies Due; Record Press can print and file paper copies of your briefs and Joint Appendix for you.

Step 3: Motions

The formal briefing stage of the federal court appeal process involves the preparation and filing of legal briefs according to set rules and timelines. Although filing motions isn’t mandatory for moving a case forward, they are necessary when a party needs to perform an action not typically permitted by the rules. 

For instance, a party may need to file a Motion for an Extension of Time to submit their opening brief, or a Motion to Strike portions of the opposing party’s brief. Additionally, if a party requires urgent or exceptional relief, they can file a motion with the Federal Circuit at any time. 

Step 4: Calendaring

Once all the briefs have been filed, the appeal is set to be assigned to an argument calendar. This is when the court schedules the case for oral argument. 

If the parties involved have legal representation, their attorneys will have the opportunity to present arguments before a panel of judges. Where the parties are unrepresented, the panel will decide the case based solely on the written briefs. 

It’s essential for counsel to promptly communicate any scheduling conflicts for oral arguments to the Court. This helps ensure that the process moves forward efficiently and without unnecessary delays.

Step 5: Oral argument

The oral argument stage allows attorneys to focus on crafting their arguments, addressing the judges’ questions, and highlighting the strengths of their case. Expert assistance with the formatting and compilation of your materials can give you more time to prepare and present a compelling argument. 

Following either the oral argument or the review of the written briefs, the Court will make its decision, and the judges will issue an opinion or order, finalizing the appeal.

Step 6: Rehearing

The rehearing stage in the federal court appeal process offers a chance to contest a decision that didn’t go in your favor. In other words, you can petition the Court for a rehearing if you believe an important issue was incorrectly decided. 

This petition can request a rehearing by the same panel of judges or a rehearing en banc, where all the active judges of the Court hear the case. This step allows for a further review and potential correction of decisions before they become final.

Step 7: Mandate

The mandate stage is the final phase in the federal court appeal process. This stage occurs after a decision has been made or a request for a rehearing has been denied, whichever comes later. The mandate officially makes the court’s judgment final and effective. It also involves taxing the costs associated with the appeal to the appropriate party, if applicable. 

The issuance of the mandate releases the court’s jurisdiction over the case, meaning the appellate court no longer has control over the matter. This step conclusively ends the appeal process, allowing the parties to move forward based on the court’s final decision.

View the federal appeal process flowchart

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Attribution: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit 

Starting the federal court appeal process? Record Press is here to help

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Going through the federal court appeal process is demanding, but having the right support can make all the difference. At Record Press, our team of attorneys, former court staff, and skilled appellate paralegals can make sure your appeal brief and other documentation are formatted to meet the Court’s precise requirements so you can focus on building the strongest case possible. For more information about our services, reach out to us today.