Updated November 3, 2020:

Can you appeal a motion to dismiss? To know if this is possible, it's important to understand the general principle of the appellate practice.

What Is the General Principle of the Appellate Practice?

The general principle of appellate practice posits that an appellant can only appeal a final decision or judgment. However, it is often difficult to determine the finality of a verdict for the aim of pursuing an appeal. It becomes more complex with the exceptions granted by case and statutory laws, which sanction interlocutory appeals before the final resolution of a case. In some situations, a party is qualified to file for an interlocutory appeal, and in other circumstances, the trial court or court of appeal reserves the right to permit or deny one.

The general principles of appellate practice can also be used in state appellate courts. However, there are vast differences between federal and state judicial systems. A party aiming to appeal a ruling in state court, or that hopes for the dismissal of an appeal on the grounds of lack of appellate powers by the court, should carefully study certain principles in the applicable jurisdiction.

According to 28 U.S.C. subsection 1291, the basic statute that grants federal courts appellate authority empowers them to entertain appeals from all final adjudications of the district courts.

What Is a Final Decision?

A final decision is a decree or judgment that brings a case to a conclusion through the resolution of all claims and counterclaims argued by the litigating parties. A final decision ends the court proceedings on the merits of the litigants' arguments, and the district court has nothing left to do except deliver its verdict. This description of a final decision is not conclusive, but it applies to many circumstances.

What Are the Reasons for Restricting Appeals?

Courts have outlined several reasons for restricting appeals to final judgments. They include:

  • Giving district judges independence in how they manage their cases.
  • Preventing litigants from abusing interlocutory appeals to harass an opponent or disrupt court proceedings.
  • Preventing waste, as interlocutory appeals require the appellate court to spend time and resources on a matter that might not be important.

The only situations where the final decision rule is not applied is when Congress or the courts believe a particular case or issue is important enough for an immediate review. They may decide it's better to proceed rather than wait for the conclusion of court proceedings on the matter.

When Can You Start to Appeal to District Court?

Typically, the losing party may appeal after the court has delivered its final judgment. In addition to appealing the final decision, the appellant can also appeal earlier rulings that were not definitive when they were issued.

Interlocutory rulings, or rulings that are not definitive during litigation, are issued from the start of the legal action. This might include denial of a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, or granting or denying objections until all outstanding issues are resolved.

All interlocutory decisions are merged into final decisions. Thus, it becomes possible to appeal earlier decisions that were deemed erroneous, except where the issue cannot be proved.

What Is the Exception of Restricting the Appeal?

The only exception is an order that denies a motion for summary judgment, which cannot be appealed when it was submitted or when the final decision was delivered. If the losing party agrees it lacked sufficient evidence to prove a claim, it is required to preserve the matter by filing a motion to present the proof. If the motion was denied, it could pursue an appeal. In essence, the proof submitted at the summary judgment becomes irrelevant to the case.

What Does an Existence of Judgment or Decree Mean?

In general, you are questioning a judicial action or omission when you appeal. For example, if you believed the jury decided in a civil case based on insufficient evidence, your appeal is not about the jury. Instead, you are challenging the judge's decision to rule as a matter of law against your client. The appellate courts would not be able to help you if you didn't first initiate and then renew a motion for judgment as a matter of law, per the provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50.

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