Appeals Process Can Provide Resolution in Business Disputes

May 1, 2013

By John M. Tatum, HunterMaclean

Special to Business in Savannah

Final judgments of trial courts in Georgia — including those based on jury verdicts — are appealable either to the Georgia Supreme Court or the Georgia Court of Appeals. A business dispute that ends up being tried or decided on a dispositive motion, which dismisses claims in favor of the moving party without the need for further court proceedings, may be appealed by the losing party.

At appropriate points during a civil trial of a business dispute, either of the parties may move for a directed verdict, which contends that the evidence is legally insufficient to support a verdict in favor of the other party. If the trial judge grants the motion, a final judgment is entered in favor of the moving party and the losing party may appeal from the judgment. If, however, the judge denies the motion and submits the case to the jury, the losing party which has moved for a directed verdict may appeal from the final judgment based on the jury’s verdict.

During the course of a trial, the trial judge will be required to rule on objections to the admissibility of evidence. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge will give instructions to the jury about the law and legal principles that are to be applied in deciding the case. Before those instructions are given, the parties will have submitted to the trial judge written requests for specific instructions.

The judge is then required to either give the instructions as requested or to decline to give a particular instruction. After the judge has instructed the jury, the jury is excused from the courtroom and told not to begin deliberations until instructed to do so. Lawyers for the parties will then have the opportunity to object to instructions given or requested instructions not given. After ruling on the objections and giving necessary corrections to the instructions, the jury begins its deliberations.

After the entry of a final judgment in the case, the losing party generally may appeal the case based on the judge’s ruling on a motion for a directed verdict, the judge’s ruling on a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the judge’s ruling on objections to the admissibility of evidence, the judge’s failure to give a requested instruction or the giving of an instruction requested by the opposing party if a proper objection was made at the appropriate time. The appellate process requires the appellant to enumerate the specific errors that it contends were made by the trial judge and to submit argument and citations to support its contentions.

The Georgia Court Appeals comprises 12 judges who hear and decide cases in panels of three. The Georgia Court of Appeals has statewide appellate jurisdiction of cases tried in the State and Superior Courts throughout Georgia, except for particular kinds of cases over which the Georgia Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction such as cases involving title to land, equity cases, cases involving wills and cases involving extraordinary remedies. The Georgia Supreme Court has seven justices who hear and decide cases in banc.

The appellate process is not the same as a new trial. The appellate court is limited in it consideration to the record that the trial court had before it at the time and will review the trial court’s ruling for legal error only.

There is no right to appeal a decision of the Georgia Court of Appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court. The party losing an appeal in the Georgia Court of Appeals may apply for a writ of certiorari in the Georgia Supreme Court, which the Supreme Court may either grant or deny. If granted, the Georgia Supreme Court will review an appeal from the Georgia Court of Appeals.

This discussion is necessarily an oversimplification of the appellate process, which is technical and complicated. The possibility of an appeal requires that the groundwork for an appeal be laid during pretrial preparation and during trial itself. If you’re involved in a business dispute, be sure to consult with an experienced litigator before taking your case to trial.

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