What to Do When the Judge is Wrong

What do when the Judge is Wrong

Judges are wrong sometimes. Aren’t they ? If you typed the word “reversed” into the general federal database on Westlaw you would get thousands of hits wouldn’t you ? Of course, you would. Thus, it is fair to presume, and for you to tell your client under appropriate circumstances, that when the Judge has ruled against you, he or she simply made a mistake.

This can be hard to explain to a client. Clients sometimes believe that Judges are infallible; after all, they wear the big black robe, everyone genuflects when the Judge walks into the room (“all rise”) and clients presume that every judge is appointed to the Bench only after having been chosen by the President of the United States, vetted by the Secret Service and approved by Congress. That impression, while true for federal judges, does not apply to State Court Judges who are often elected and sometimes appointed by the Governor. Therefore, the Judge can be, in certain instances, human and, indeed, fallible like everyone else, subject to mistakes.

There are, however, all kinds of mistakes that Judges can make. There are big mistakes and little mistakes. There are immediately appealable mistakes and mistakes which are not immediately appealable. Ultimately, all of the Judge’s mistakes are subject to appeal – the question is when may an appeal be filed. You would think that this would be a relatively simple question to answer. Wrong ! The appeals courts have made this determination so complex that sometimes regular litigators do not feel comfortable answering it – they need to actually hire someone who has a specialty and is referred to as an “appellate lawyer.”

To many clients, the suggestion that an “appellate lawyer” needs to be hired only means one thing – more money. Without meaning to besmirch the reputation of the many fine appellate lawyers in our community, I would suggest that this is sometimes necessary and sometimes not. The average litigator should be able to handle the average appeal. The first question to answer is, however, whether you have the right to an immediate appeal or have to wait until after the conclusion of the whole case.

The appellate courts in Florida apparently face crushing workloads. That is why they, through their friends at the Florida Legislature, the Florida Legislature has restricted your right to file an immediate or what is sometimes called an “interlocutory” appeal. There are several rules which apply and which, if followed, may prevent your client’s appeal from being dismissed by the appellate court after it is filed.

1. The Order subject to the appeal must resolve all Issues among at least some of the parties.

Losing a summary judgment motion can be painful. However, the appeal of such an order entered with respect to such a motion requires careful thought to determine whether it is appealable. If your client is the moving party, and loses a summary judgment motion, the chances are that the Order is not appealable. Why ? Because the appellate courts want the trial courts to resolve cases and do not want litigants and their counsel to file an appeal every time a summary judgment motion is lost. The Courts would then be flooded with appeals filed by unhappy litigants.

2. Is Judicial Labor at an End ?

On the other hand, if your client loses a summary judgment motion, and an order is entered against it which resolves the entire case, the chances are that your client will be entitled to file an immediate appeal. This is because the “judicial labor [in the trial court] is at an end”. This is a fancy way of saying that the Judge is done working on the case and it can now be comfortably reviewed by someone else.

3, What if Summary Judgment is only Partial and there are other claims in the case still to be resolved ?

If there are claims which remain in the case, which are not resolved by a summary judgment motion, even if summary judgment does resolve most of the issues, it is likely that the order is not appealable until the end of the case. This is because the Order does not resolve all issues among the parties and because “judicial labor is not at an end”; in fact, arguably, judicial labor may still be in its nascent stages because the Judge is now tasked with addressing pre-trial motions, ruling on other summary judgment issues and actually trying the case.

The world of appeals can be complex. Every order must be determined based upon specific facts before a determination can be made as to whether an order is subject to an immediate appeal.

Determining whether an Order is appealable can be a very nuanced undertaking. However, the average litigator should be able to figure it out after reviewing the applicable appellate rules and case law. One would think that some wise appellate lawyer would have assemble a list of appealable orders for ready reference by the Bench and Bar. In fact, I attended a seminar at the Third District Court of Appeals hoping that someone would have compiled such a list and passed it out with the materials. While the hand outs were extremely helpful, and synthesized the recent case law on the subject, no handy check list was provided. Thus, it remains the job of the litigator to make appropriate determinations about what types of Orders are, and are not, subject to an immediate appeal.

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