Appeals 101:  When Can you Seek Rehearing in a State Court Appeal?

Needle in a Haystack

Determining whether there is an issue that warrants rehearing when you aren’t the lawyer who wrote the appeal briefs is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

We often get calls from litigants who have just found out they’ve lost their appeal and want to seek rehearing from the appellate court. Either they handled their appeal on their own, pro se (which we never recommend, but if you plan to do so, the Florida Bar Appellate Section has some great resources here), or else they utilized counsel but now that they’ve lost, they would like a second opinion.

And our answer is the same:  without even looking at your case, I can tell you that the chance of a motion for rehearing being granted is very low, and the likely result of my analysis of your case will be that you do not have a basis for rehearing.  How can I say that without even looking at your case, you ask? Well, it comes down to the rules.  Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.330 governs appellate rehearing, and sets very strict rules about when you can even bring a rehearing motion. The rules even require any lawyer filing such a motion to swear on their bar license that the motion is justified.  So while we are happy to take on a “peace of mind” review of your case to determine whether rehearing is even available, you have to understand that it rarely is.

You have to act quickly

. A motion for rehearing may be filed within 15 days of the District Court’s decision.  Fla. R. App. P. 9.330(a).  Fifteen days is not a lot of time to analyze the entire case file (opinion, all three briefs, and record) and determine whether there are grounds for rehearing, so if your goal is to hire a new lawyer to take a look at the issues, you have to move quickly.  I recommend hiring someone certainly within a week of the decision, if not sooner, so that person has the chance.  Anyone who says they can do a motion for rehearing without thoroughly analyzing all of the prior briefing does not understand motions for rehearing.

You have to meet a high standard

  There are two flavors of Rule 9.330 motion:  Rehearing and Clarification.  As the rule states, a motion for rehearing “shall state with particularity the points of law or fact that, in the opinion of the movant, the court has overlooked or misapprehended in its decision, and shall not present issues not previously raised in the proceeding.”  So basically, you have to walk a tightrope:  You can’t raise a new issue, but you also can’t just reargue what you said before.  Instead, you have to really find a place where the appellate court in its review truly overlooked or misunderstood something.  If you do just re-argue what you said before, you can be sanctioned.  As one court has explained, a motion for rehearing is not “a last resort to persuade th[e] court to change its mind, or to express …displeasure with th[e] court’s conclusion.”  Lawyers Title Ins Group v. Reitzes, 631 So.2d 1100, 1101 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (issuing order to show cause why lawyer should not be sanctioned for merely re-arguing the same things in a motion for rehearing).  Such motions should very rarely be filed.

Similarly, a motion for clarification “shall state with particularity the points of law or fact in the court’s decision that, in the opinion of the movant, are in need of clarification”. Fla. R. App. P. 9.330.  But clarification is only useful if something is unclear or confusing in the written opinion, which is rare.  I’ve filed exactly one motion for clarification in my career, and it was, in fact, granted.  I have never been more proud to have 2 words deleted from an opinion that I still lost.  But that just goes to show how rarely these motions should be filed and how even rarer it is to grant them.

In my entire career, I’ve filed only a handful of rehearing motions, and only a few of those were granted. That I’ve had any granted is a great track record, but all it shows is that I don’t file motions for rehearing that break the rule and re-argue what was said before or raise entirely new issues.

Should you bother with a Motion for Rehearing?

  Rehearing is rarely appropriate to request, and even more rarely granted.  It is perfectly reasonable to get an unfavorable decision from the District Court of Appeal, and decide there is nothing more to be done, without further analysis: the odds are stacked against you.  When we represent a client throughout the appeal, we include in our services an analysis of rehearing issues, and make a recommendation as to whether rehearing is appropriate (spoiler alert: the answer is usually no).  When we were not the appellate counsel all along, it’s much harder: to decide whether rehearing is appropriate, one has to read not just the opinion, but the briefs showing what was argued, the cases cited in the briefs, and even the record to understand what happened in the trial court.  That takes time!  We are always happy to analyze a file and look for the tiny nugget of gold that would allow us to file a supported motion for rehearing—for us it’s a fun challenge.  But we charge a fee to do so, because to do it right generally takes several hours of time. And we want to be very upfront that the process is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and the answer will more likely than not be “sorry, we don’t advise seeking rehearing.”

Still not deterred?  If you have gotten a decision from the appellate court and want to hire us to determine whether rehearing is appropriate, feel free to schedule an intake consult.  Be sure to give us your case number and full contact information so we can run a conflicts check.

Photo courtesy of Flickr User Michael Gil Used under a CC 2.0 license

Register Now for Second District eDCA Access

Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal is now accepting registration for its new eDCA system, which will go live for filing on March 1st. If you are a Second District practitioner, be sure to register now, so that you are ready to transition next week. Now is also a good time to update any staff on new procedures, if they (or you) are not familiar with using the eDCA system. As we’ve previously reported, Clerk Mary Beth Kuenzel announced the transition to eDCA earlier this month at the Breakfast with the Second DCA CLE, and things are moving along on the pace she outlined at the breakfast. Be ready!

Second DCA to Switch to eDCA System

At this Morning’s State of the Second DCA CLE, Clerk Mary Beth Kuenzel announced a big and imminent change in the way that Court will be processing changes: as soon as March 1st, the Court will have transitioned to the eDCA filing system, and away from the Florida Court’s Portal. What does this mean for practitioners? If you are used to practicing in other DCAs, this transition won’t be too difficult, but for folks who only know the Portal, there will be some adjustment needed.

Sign Up Early. Watch the Clerk’s Website for the chance to sign up for eDCA in the next week. You’ll want to get your registration processed before it goes live and you need to file. You need a separate login for each District’s eDCA system.

Be Ready to Effectuate Separate Service. While eDCA provides “Case Mail” as soon as something is filed, that does not count as Service under Florida Rule of Judicial Administration Rule 2.516. You have to go back to sending a separate email for service.

Instant Orders. What we give up with service, we’ll get back tenfold by getting Court orders and opinions by email instead of U.S. Mail. This will save the Clerk more than $50,000 a year in postage, and save attorneys a lot of hassle, too.

Record on Demand. With eDCA, attorneys of record can download from the docket any DCA filing, including the Record on Appeal once transmitted. No more need for the FTP work around, which worked, but was time intensive for Court staff.

Briefs on Demand. Registrants to the system will also be able to pull briefs in cases where they are NOT counsel of record. Pretty handy if you are briefing the same issue!

Portal for Payment. The Second District will still be on the portal for one reason — to accept payment of filing fees. If you pay through the portal, plan to upload a simple payment transmittal letter, and ONLY a payment transmittal letter. Any other document or pleading will be kicked.

The hope is that the portal will be ready to work with the DCA internal docketing systems by Spring of 2018, and at that point, all of them will switch to the portal. But for now, all DCAs will require separate eDCA login.

Editor’s Note: We were in such a rush to get out this news, we forgot to mention the payment issue. This article is updated to reflect that information!