Sometimes the outcome of civil litigation in Texas is not the one you had expected. Fortunately, regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, you can appeal it. The appeals process varies according to the court and the jurisdiction, so to ensure you do not lose the opportunity, you have to make sure you know how the process works, what the expectations are, what deadlines exist, and which forms to complete and file. 

At O Rodriguez Law PLLC, our mission is to help our clients obtain the best outcome for their legal matter, and sometimes that means appealing a lower court's decision. Our civil appellate attorney located in Eagle Pass guides our clients through the entire appeals process – from helping you identify the grounds to appeal through completion of the appeal. Contact us today at 713-239-2300 to schedule a consultation.

Appeals in Texas Civil Cases

When one party to a lawsuit is not pleased with the verdict or judgment that has been entered, they may file an appeal. An appeal is a process to have a lower court's decision reviewed by a higher court. It is not a new trial, but it is a chance to raise for review any legal errors that were made at trial. Only issues preserved at trial can be reviewed by the higher court.  

Settlements that a lower court has approved cannot be appealed. Settlements are final at the time both parties execute the agreement and/or a judge reviews and enters an order granting the settlement agreement.

Party Designations

The are two basic designations of the parties involved in an appeal: appellant and appellee.

The appellant is the party that appeals the decision of the trial court. This is the individual or entity seeking a review of the lower court's judgment, with the goal of having it reversed, modified, or remanded.

The appellee is the party against whom the appeal is brought. In the context of a civil appeal, the appellee is typically the prevailing party in the trial court—the one who won the case. The appellee's role is to defend the trial court's decision and argue that it should be upheld.

Appellate Courts

Appellate courts, also known as appeal courts, are judicial bodies responsible for hearing appeals from decisions made by lower trial courts. Appellate courts are typically composed of multiple judges, often three or more. In some jurisdictions, these judges may be called justices. Unlike trial courts, which may have a single judge or a judge and jury, appellate courts typically involve panels of judges who collectively decide on the appeal.

Key functions of appellate courts include:

  • Reviewing lower court decisions based on the record of the case, which includes transcripts, documents, and evidence presented during the trial
  • Deciding legal issues by considering arguments from each party, legal precedents, and statutes to determine whether the lower court correctly interpreted and applied the law
  • Correcting errors by affirming the lower court's decision, reversing it, modifying it, or remanding the case back to the trial court for further proceedings
  • Filing opinions to explain the reasons for the decisions

Appellate courts are usually positioned in a hierarchy above trial courts. Decisions of appellate courts can be further appealed to higher appellate levels, such as a state supreme court or the United States Supreme Court.

Types of Civil Cases that Can Be Appealed

If there are credible grounds for an appeal, then almost any type of civil case can be appealed. Common types of civil cases that may be subject to appeal include:

  • Contract disputes, like cases involving disputes over contracts related to breach of contract, interpretation of contract terms, or the validity of contracts
  • Personal injury or tort claims, like cases involving negligence, auto accidents, product defects, defamation, malpractice, or other tort claims where one party alleges harm caused by another party's actions
  • Family law matters, like issues involving divorce, child custody, paternity, or property division
  • Property disputes, including cases related to real estate disputes, boundary issues, landlord-tenant disputes, eminent domain, or property rights
  • Employment cases, including disputes about wrongful termination, discrimination, or workplace harassment
  • Administrative law cases, including cases where decisions were made by administrative agencies on topics like licensing, regulatory compliance, or government actions
  • Probate and estate cases, including disputes over wills, trusts, or the distribution of an individual's estate
  • Debt collection cases, including issues related to debt collection, creditor disputes, or bankruptcy proceedings
  • Constitutional issues, like those involving constitutional challenges or cases related to civil rights violations

Interlocutory Appeals

Not all “appeals” must wait until the conclusion of a lower court. In what's known as an interlocutory appeal, an appeal is made before the trial court has issued a final judgment in a case. In other words, it is an appeal that occurs during the intermediate stages of litigation, rather than waiting until the entire case is concluded. 

Interlocutory appeals are less common than final appeals, but in the following situations, they are often allowed:

  • Limited circumstances, where there is a compelling reason to review a particular issue before the conclusion of the entire case – for example, the resolution of a particular legal issue may impact the overall outcome of the case, and waiting until the end of the trial would cause significant prejudice.
  • Permission granted, which means that the trial court – based on the criteria specified in the applicable rules or statutes –  has certified or permitted the appeal to an appellate court. 
  • Reviewable issues, where the appeal involves questions of law rather than questions of fact – for instance, a party might seek an interlocutory appeal to challenge a trial court's ruling on a legal issue or a motion to dismiss.

The availability and procedures for interlocutory appeals can vary significantly between jurisdictions. Parties considering an interlocutory appeal should consult the relevant rules and statutes in their jurisdiction. If you are in Texas and need legal advice to determine the best course of action, contact our appeals lawyer today.

Grounds for Appeals in Civil Cases

Appellate review is generally limited to legal issues and questions of law. Appellate courts do not evaluate witness credibility or examine the facts unless there is a claim of legal error in how the facts were considered. As such, grounds for an appeal are most often limited to three situations: 

  1. A mistake was made in the process or procedures at trial;
  2. A legal error was made at trial; or
  3. Factual findings of the decision contradict the evidence.

Procedural Error

Appeals can be lodged based on procedural errors committed during the trial. Procedural errors may include: 

  • Violations of court rules
  • Failure to follow proper procedures
  • Denial of a fair opportunity to present a case

If the appellate court determines that a procedural error occurred and that it affected the fairness of the proceedings, it may order a new trial or remedy the error in another appropriate way.

Legal Error

This ground of appeal is based on the argument that the lower court made a mistake in interpreting or applying the law. The appellant contends that the judge misapplied legal principles or statutes, leading to an incorrect decision. To succeed on this ground, the appellant (the party bringing the appeal) must demonstrate that the error had a significant impact on the outcome of the case.

Factual Error

An appeal can be based on errors of fact, alleging that the lower court made factual mistakes or failed to properly consider relevant evidence. To succeed on this ground, the appellant must show that the lower court's findings of fact were not supported by the evidence presented during the trial or that important evidence was overlooked. Courts are generally reluctant to overturn factual findings, as trial courts are often in the best position to assess witness credibility and weigh evidence.

Steps to Appeal a Civil Case in Texas

The exact steps to file an appeal depend on the court and jurisdiction. Generally speaking, however, most appeals include the following basic steps.

Determine the Scope of Appeal

As soon as the unfavorable judgment is entered, you want to identify the basis and scope of the appeal. By law, only certain issues can be grounds for an appeal and it is important to ensure the appeal is based on one or more of these grounds. 

Because only issues preserved at trial can be addressed on appeal, the transcript of the trial and accompanying evidence should be reviewed to confirm any and all preserved issues to be raised on appeal.

Determine the Statute of Limitation for Filing an Appeal

Every court will have a certain amount of time in which the appeal must be filed. It is essential to determine the amount of time available and to file within that time frame. If an appeal is not filed within the statute of limitations, it may be forever barred. 

Prepare, File, and Serve the Appeal

Preparing the appeal can be time-consuming, which is why it is important to first identify the statute of limitations. The appeal must also be filed at the appropriate appellate court with the proper filing fee. All other parties must be served according to the rules of the court where the appeal is filed – for example, some courts require in-person service while others have determined regular mail is sufficient for service. 

Stop Execution of the Judgment

Filing an appeal does not automatically stop, or stay, a judgment. To prevent the other party from collecting their judgment, it is often necessary to take an additional step. In some jurisdictions, that additional step involves the appellant filing a supersedeas bond while in others, it means filing a motion to stay the judgment. 

Prepare a Brief

A brief is a legal document that states the case and the arguments for why the decision of the lower court should be reversed, remanded, or affirmed. Briefs are not always required in appeals. 

The Final Steps

What happens next depends mostly on the court. They may or may not hold an oral hearing, which is not to be confused with a trial. Our appellate attorney in Texas will advise you on what to expect as well as walk you through it as it happens so that you remain informed and engaged in the overall appellate process.

Possible Outcomes of Civil Appeals in Texas

In a civil appeal, an appellate court has several options when deciding how to handle the case. If more than one legal issue was appealed, then a separate outcome may be issued for each issue. 

Possible outcomes generally include an order to:

  • Affirm the decision. Here, the appellate court agrees with the lower court's decision, meaning the original decision stands and no changes are made. 
  • Reverse the decision. If the appellate court finds errors in the lower court's decision, it may choose to reverse the judgment, which results in a nullification of the original decision, and the case may be sent back to the trial court for further proceedings or a new trial.
  • Modify the decision. In some cases, the appellate court may agree with the general outcome but find errors in specific aspects of the judgment, so the court chooses to modify the decision by making changes to certain findings or legal conclusions while leaving other parts intact.
  • Remand for further proceedings. Here, the appellate court determines that additional proceedings are necessary or that certain issues require further consideration, so it sends the case back to the trial court so that the latter can address specific issues or gather additional evidence.
  • Dismiss the appeal. The appellate court may dismiss the appeal if it determines that the issues raised are not meritorious or that existing procedural defects prevent a proper review.
  • Render a new decision. In some cases, the appellate court may render a new decision on the case, possibly substituting its own judgment for that of the trial court.

Appellate courts may issue a written opinion explaining its reasoning and legal analysis. If it does, these opinions often influence future cases and provide guidance on the interpretation of the law.

Contact a Civil Litigation Lawyer in Eagle Pass Today

If you need to appeal a civil matter, you need an attorney who understands the appellate system. At O Rodriguez Law PLLC, our appeals attorney in Texas knows the process and will develop a strong appellate strategy to help you get the outcome you should have in the first place. 

As each appeal is unique, it is best to schedule a consultation with us to discuss the particulars of your case. Call us at 713-239-2300 or fill out the online form, and we will help you discern whether you have grounds for an appeal. If so, we will get the appeal started so that it can be timely and persuasively filed.