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Challenging Erroneous Superior Court Judgments and Orders in the California Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court

Errors by a Superior Court Judge or Jury can be challenged in one of two general ways:

  1. By an Appeal to the Court of Appeal of a Final judgment or Final order of a Superior Court, as a matter of right.

  2. By Application or Petition to the Court of Appeal for a discretionary Writ of Review, Mandamus, Prohibition, or the like.

Writ Petitions or Applications fall into a least two general categories:

  1. An Application for an Interlocutory Writ, while the case is still pending in the Superior Court before entry of a final judgment or order in the case, to try to correct or limit a Court’s orders or ruling in the case, other than a final Order or Judgment.

    Examples of this kind of Writ Application include applications to review grants of demurrers, judgment on the pleadings, discovery orders, etc where an appeal at the end of the case might not be an effective remedy due to ensuing prejudice which could result in the interim, or where an entirely new trial might be needed if the error is not corrected before trial, etc.
  2. Orders of the Court or a government administrative agency where review by an Application for a Writ is the exclusive means allowed by law for reviewing a particular action or decision of the Court.

    Examples of some of these types of situations are:

    • Grant or Denial of a Motion to Vacate a Lis Pendens
    • Public Records Act decisions
    • Attempts to disqualify a Judge
    • Certain administrative agency decisions
    • Certain other orders, rulings or decisions

As noted, Writ Applications to the Court of Appeal (or the Supreme Court) are usually “discretionary” which means that - unlike a direct appeal from a final judgment - the Court of Appeal does not have to decide the Merits of the Writ Petition, Petition or Application at all, and may simply deny the relief requested, without any explanation of its reasoning, without stating any basis whatsoever.

While there are no published statistics on how often discretionary Writ Petitions are granted, or decided on the merits of the legal arguments raised, it is probably quite low in percentage terms.

Probably, Petitions raising new or novel legal issues, which are also likely to arise in other future cases, are more likely to be successful.

Writ Petitions typically must be filed VERY SOON after the adverse Court Ruling or agency, sometimes in as little as days, by statute, especially as to the second type of Writ discussed above.

Even where there are no express or statutory deadlines for a Writ Petitions, delays will only likely decrease the chances of the Writ being allowed or heard.

So, in all cases Writs should be sought almost immediately after the adverse ruling or decision by the Superior Court.

Appeals from a Final Judgment or Final Order typically must be filed within 30 or 60 days from service of the Judgment or Order on the affected party or its attorney.

This deadline is considered “jurisdictional” and no excuses for delay are usually ever accepted.

Unlike Writ Petitions, which are decided in days or at most a few weeks, normal appeals can take a year or longer to be decided, and require Court Reporter transcripts, and Court Pleadings to be prepared and filed with the Court of Appeal, and extensive legal briefing by all sides.

As with Writs, there are no official statistics published on how often Appeals are successful, but it likely is well under fifty percent.

The Court of Appeal applies varying standards - called Standards of Review - in judging Appeals, depending on the types of errors alleged.

Where a party claims that there was insufficient evidence to support the adverse judgment, the judgment will likely be upheld unless the Court finds there is no “substantial evidence” to support the judgment.

This kind of appeal is, thus, the least likely to be successful, as there is typically some reasonable evidence to support most Court decisions, and the Court of Appeal will not reweigh or re-evaluate the evidence and will defer to the Trial Court’s evaluation of that evidence, as it heard the witnesses, etc.

On the other hand, where the argument on or Appeal is that the Court misinterpreted a contract, or misinterpreted or misapplied a law or regulation or made some other legal error, the Court of Appeal does not defer to the Superior Court’s Judgment, and determines directly that issue itself all over again or “de novo”.

The same standard applies where the Court heard no witnesses, and made its decision solely on written witness declarations or affidavits, and the like, such as on Summary Judgment, a Demurrer, etc.

If a good legal argument can be made in such a case, these types of Appeal also at least somewhat more likely to be successful.

Or Standards of Review may also apply to other types of rulings, such as abuse of discretion, etc.

Appeals and Writ Petitions are handled either by the attorney who represented the client in the Superior Court, or by other “Appellate” attorneys who concentrate most of their law practice on or who specialize in Court of Appeal and Supreme Court proceedings and cases.

However, even in the latter case the assistance and cooperation of the Superior Court trial attorney will be useful or necessary for a successful and efficient Writ Petition or Appeal.

Costs of a Writ or Appeal also vary depending on the issues raised, the extent of the Superior Court pleadings, evidence, testimony and the like. Writ Petitions might cost just a few thousand dollars, and appeals are usually more costly, often in the tens of thousands of dollars.

In both kinds of proceedings there are also additional costs in providing official copies of the Superior Court pleadings, called a Clerk’s Transcript, to the Court of Appeal. And on appeals a court reporter’s transcript of the court hearings and evidence may also be needed, and can be quite expensive.

N.B. The contents of this Article DO NOT constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship, and you may not rely on it without seeking legal advice regarding your particular situation and contract from a competent appellate attorney.

Please also note that statutes and case law are frequently changing and these materials may become outdated.

For further information on this topic and how the current law may apply to your case, court proceeding and issues, Contact Us via email, phone (415)788-1881 or visit our website at www.wolfflaw.com for other contract information.

© George W. Wolff (2015), all rights reserved.