After you’ve lost part or all of your case, you’ve only got a certain amount of time to file your appeal. Wait too long, and you may lose your case, even if it’s clear that the trial court made a mistake with your case. The exceptions for filing a late appeal are few and far between, so you’d better take care to do it within the time allowed.
So when do you file your appeal?
After a Final Judgment
Only final judgments may be appealed. Alabama law books are full of cases discussing what is and what is not a “final judgment.” This means:
- If there is no final judgment, you probably can’t appeal (though maybe you can file a writ – ask your lawyer); and
- if there is a final judgment, but you wrongly think there isn’t, you might miss your opportunity to appeal.
Most of the time a final judgment is obvious – like a final divorce decree and judgment that divorces the parties, awards child support, alimony, and visitation. But sometimes it’s not so obvious – like an order that ends some but not all of the case. Therefore, to the extent possible, talk to an attorney about whether you have a judgment that can be appealed.
Within 42 Days of the Final Judgment
Generally speaking your time for filing an appeal is 42 days – six weeks from the final judgment. Beware, those six weeks can go quickly.
…Except When There is a Post-Judgment Motion
Those 42 days can be extended when there is a motion for post-judgment relief, like a new trial. When a motion for a new trial is filed within the time frame allowed (usually 30 days) the 42 day period goes on hold, and starts over again when the motion is resolved. The motion gets resolved when either:
- the trial court rules on the motion; or
- the trial court fails to rule on the motion within 90 days and it is “deemed denied.”
…Except When It’s Not
The 42 day appeal time generally is for appeals from the circuit court – the highest level of trial court in Alabama. If your case was in District Court, you probably have only 14 days to appeal. If it’s a juvenile case, you probably have only 14 days to appeal, probate cases too. If it’s a small claims case, you may only have 7 days to appeal.
Also, be aware that the federal courts have their own deadlines, as do administrative agencies like unemployment, the Social Security Administration, and others. Be sure to read any notice you get about your case. Sometimes it will include how long you have to appeal your case.
Where to Go for More Help:
- Start with the Rule 4 of the Alabama Appellate Rules. It sets the deadlines for the majority of appeals;
- Contact your local court clerk. While they can’t provide legal advice, they can be very helpful and may be able to point you in the right direction;
- Check out an appellate flow chart from the Administrative Office fo the Courts and their frequently asked questions page;
- Read the Browne House Law blog articles on filing the Notice of Appeal and tips for what to include in your appellate brief; and
- Call the lawyers at Browne House Law to represent you or hire them on an hourly basis to provide counsel and advice.
Whatever you do, don’t rely solely on this article. Times change, rules change, and different circumstances call for different approaches. To the extent possible, seek help from a qualified attorney.