When Can I Appeal a Case?

I have discussed appeals before, but some of you may wonder, “when can I appeal a case?” This post attempts to answer that question with as little legalese as possible. A case is appealable at two times: (1) at the final order and disposition of the case, or (2) if it is an order included in the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure (P.R.A.P.) Rule 311. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

What is a “final order”?

P.R.A.P. Rule 341 defines a “final order” for us. When the case is over an order is given by the judge. The order is the final order and disposition when it gives a ruling regarding all claims and all parties, or it is expressly defined as a final order. In other words, that order disposes all of the things the court was supposed to address and so it is appealable.

An order may also be a final order if, when there are multiple claims and only one claim has a verdict, and it has appealable issues, and getting a final verdict on that issue will help determine the other claims,then the court will allow the appeal. This strategy would come into play only when there are multiple claims, and is a little more complicated than the other 2 final dispositions.

Discuss with your attorney what orders are final, although it is usually straightforward. If everything appears to be addressed in the order, it is final. If there are claims or parties left in limbo, it is not final. If it is not final, you might still be able to appeal if the appeal will deal with those claims or parties in limbo as well.

What else is appealable?

The other appealable issues arise when someone’s rights are going to be irreversibly affected by the order, but it is definitely not a final order. When an order is appealed but is not a final order, it is called interlocutory.

–          An order refusing to vacate, open, or strike a judgment is immediately appealable because it is an order which affects a judgment of a person.

–          An order to attach, vacating an attachment, or refusing to attach is appealable. An attachment is a lien on property, meaning that if somebody owed you money, you could attach his property and sell it to get the money. Selling property is something that causes irreversible damage.

–          An order to change criminal venue is appealable. This means that if your trial is ordered moved you have the right to appeal that decision because where your trial takes place determines the jury that will be called and that could cause irreversible harm.

–          An order granting, denying or altering an injunction is appealable. An injunction tells a person they may not do something. Because Americans have a liberty interest in being free to do various things, the order can cause irreparable harm.

–          An order determining the validity of a will or trust is appealable so that no distributions will be made from the estate or trust until all issues have been worked out.

It’s a long list, and it is incomplete. Other cases and rules alter this list slightly, but these are the more common instances of appealable issues.

If you think you have an appealable order, and have a reason to appeal it, you should talk to your attorney. Your attorney should be able to inform you of whether your hunch is right and you have an appealable order.

What if I appeal the case, and it turns out it wasn’t appealable yet?

You must meet all procedural requirements of docketing the case and giving the court the trial record. If, after doing that, the court finds that the issue is not ripe for appeal, the Court will then “quash” the appeal. What happens when a court “quashes” an appeal? The judge gets really, REALLY mad and yells at you!

No, no, just kidding.

When a court refuses to hear an appeal, it quashes it. This simply means the court hands the issue back to the trial court. The appeals court will remand the issue so that the trial court can finish its job, whether that be to go to trial, to finalize an order, or some procedural step that was missed such as filing a document. Your case is not prejudiced by being remanded to the trial court, it is just the appeals court explaining that it’s not your turn to be heard.

After the trial court finishes its job, you will be permitted to appeal again.