In addition to the distinction between trial level work and appeals discussed in my previous blog post, there are nuanced differences between an appeal to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. For this reason, it would be a mistake to submit a brief to the Supreme Court that merely regurgitates the arguments made to the Court of Appeals. Experienced appellate attorneys understand these differences and will craft their arguments differently to be most persuasive to the court deciding the case.

The Judges

The Minnesota Court of Appeals consists of 19 judges. Of those 19 judges, three will be assigned to decide each case. You will not know which judges are assigned to your case until after briefing is complete.

The Supreme Court is different. In Minnesota there are seven justices and, barring any recusals, all seven will decide your case. Experienced appellate attorneys will be very familiar with the seven justices on the court and will understand how to tailor the arguments to the specific justices based on their known judicial philosophies and prior decisions.

Types of Cases

The Court of Appeals must decide all cases that are properly appealed to it. The Minnesota Court of Appeals decides more than 2,000 cases per year.

With few limited exceptions, the Supreme Court has discretionary review. This means you must file a Petition for Review and, based on that, the court will decide whether it wants to hear your case. Because the Minnesota Supreme Court grants only about 10% of the Petitions for Review that it receives, it is important to have the Petition for Review prepared by an experienced appellate attorney. In general, the Supreme Court chooses to hear cases that involve important issues of statewide impact that are likely to recur if not resolved. Showing that the Court of Appeals merely reached the wrong decision is rarely sufficient to obtain Supreme Court review.

The Role of the Court

The Court of Appeals is often described as an “error correcting court.” This means it will correct errors made by the trial court judge, but it generally does not make new law. It is bound to follow pre-existing decisions of the Supreme Court. Accordingly, when making an argument to the Court of Appeals, it is most appropriate to rely on established case law and statutes.

The role of the Supreme Court is different. It often tackles issues of first impression, such as the interpretation of a new statute or the application of an existing rule of law to a materially different fact pattern. Although the Supreme Court is reluctant to overturn its existing precedent, it has the power to do so when it is convinced it is appropriate. The Supreme Court may be more interested in policy arguments about what the law should be or what other jurisdictions are doing. Because of these different roles, it is sometimes necessary to pursue an appeal through the Court of Appeals, knowing the Court of Appeals will likely affirm, just to reach the Supreme Court.

In short, it is important to understand the differences between the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in order to produce a persuasive brief for the appropriate court.  For more information, please contact Michelle Kuhl.