Appeals 101: How do I initiate my Florida civil appeal?

The Second District Court of Appeals’ Clerk’s Office is in Lakeland, FL. But you don’t have to visit — you can file your filing fee by mail or online!

Timing of Your Notice of Appeal

In a standard civil case in Florida, one initiates an appeal by (1) filing a notice of appeal and (2) paying the filing fee.  This applies to appeals from both final (see Fla. R. App. P. 9.110) and non-final (see Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(b)) orders.  You have 30 days from the date your ordered is rendered to file your notice (stay tuned for an upcoming Appeals 101 post on what “rendered” means for appellate purposes).

Format of Your Notice of Appeal

The notice is a simple document — it does not contain argument, and it does not have to tell the court why you are appealing. Rather, it contains only basic contents — just enough to let the Court know what you are appealing and by what authority. Specifically, the notice must contain a caption, the name of the court to which the appeal is taken, the date of rendition, and the nature of the order to be reviewed. It is also critical to attach a copy of the order on appeal to the notice. The rules actually contain a sample notice to follow [.pdf].

Filing and Fees for Your Notice of Appeal

So how, and where, do you accomplish these filings?  You go to the court that issued the order you want to appeal (sometimes referred to as the “trial court” or the “lower tribunal”).  That is where you will file your notice of appeal.  As far as fees, you’ll have to pay a fee both to that court, and to the appellate court.  These days, both your notice of appeal and your filing fees to the courts can be paid online.

An example:  You are appealing to the district court of appeal a final order of the circuit court.  You must file your notice of appeal with the circuit court clerk, along with a $100 filing fee.  You may also have to pay other small handling fees, such as a $2 “certification” fee, or credit card fees.  Your notice of appeal will be sent to the district court of appeal.  Upon receipt of the notice, the district court will assign your case a new number, and will often issue an order or notice stating that its filing fee has not been paid.  You then must pay the district court an additional $300. Note that this procedure doesn’t really match up with the rules — before electronic filing, you were supposed to send your check to the circuit court clerk for both filing fees, but the rules haven’t caught up with technology, and the District Court does not take issue with you paying your filing fees after it assigns a case number, so long as you do it quickly. At that point, your appeal is fully initiated.

Filing a Notice of Appeal of a County Court Decision

The process is generally the same for appealing county court orders to the circuit courts, although the amounts of the fees vary slightly.

Filing a Notice of Cross-Appeal

And if someone else has filed a notice of appeal already and you want to file a cross-appeal, you’ll have to pay the appellate court $295.

For more information, look to the rules for final appeals and non-final appeals, and check out some of our other blog posts at flabarappellate.org.

What Happens if My Notice of Appeal is Late?

Be careful, because failing to file the notice of appeal on time will result in dismissal of your appeal for lack of jurisdiction.  A late notice of appeal is not something that can be fixed.  And while the courts are somewhat forgiving if you merely file in the wrong court or don’t pay the filing fee right away, they can still dismiss your appeal before you even get a chance to argue the merits if you don’t straighten out those defects fast.

Don’t Mess Around With Your Notice of Appeal

The rules of appellate procedure can be complicated and intimidating, but we’re here to help. Because the 30 day deadline comes fast, call our office for a consultation at 813-778-5161 if you are thinking of filing an appeal. Day 31 is too late. Count wrong, and it can be too late. Misunderstand rendition, and it can be too late. In fact, because understanding rendition can be tricky — and because your appeal can sometimes be stronger if you file a timely and authorized motion for rehearing, which has a shorter deadline — we recommend you contact appellate counsel within a day or two of learning of the order you want to appeal.

About Appeals 101

This post is part of our continuing Appeals 101 series. Click the link to find all of our posts on the basics of litigating an appeal.

Voluntary Dismissal Leads to (almost) Writ of Prohibition

The Third District recently confirmed that a trial court loses jurisdiction over the substance of a case once a plaintiff voluntarily dismisses under Rule 1.420(a)(1), and that with only one rare exception a Court cannot set aside such a dismissal. U.S. Bank N.A. v. Rivera, Case No. 3D15-1415 (Fla. 3d Dist. April
27, 2016) [.pdf].

The case has a complicated procedural history: The Bank initiated foreclosure in 2009, and served the defendants by publication, obtaining a default judgment. In 2011, the Bank sought to vacate and set aside that judgment, citing “irregularities in the actions taken by its former counsel,” and the Riveras, too, sought to relief from the judgment pursuant to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540. Id. at 2. In 2013, the trial court finally entered the Bank’s 1.540 motion to vacate the judgment, and shortly thereafter, the Bank voluntarily dismissed the foreclosure action. Id. at 3.

The Riveras, however, did not stop litigating. They moved to set aside the voluntary dismissal for fraud on the court, attempted to engage in discovery to uncover the fraud, and sought sanctions against the Bank for failing to comply with the discovery. The Bank eventually sought the instant writ of prohibition to stop the trial court from continuing to exercise jurisdiction over the dismissed case.

What is a Writ of Prohibition?

A writ of prohibition is not an appeal in the traditional sense. Rather, it is an action, on the original jurisdiction of the district court of appeal, “to prevent courts from acting when there is no jurisdiction to act.” Sutton v. State, 975 So. 2d 1073, 1076 (Fla. 2008); see also Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(b)(3). Here, seeking a writ of prohibition was the appropriate remedy, because the party contended that the trial court was continuing to act even though it lacked jurisdiction to do so.

Citing to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Pino v. Bank of New York, 121 So. 3d 23 (Fla. 2013), the Court ruled that the Rivera’s attempts to secure a dismissal with prejudice were not authorized by Rule 1.540. Specifically, the Court explained that “a trial court has neither the authority under rule 1.540 nor the inherent authority to grant relief from a voluntary dismissal where fraud on the court is alleged but no affirmative relief has been granted to the dismissing plaintiff.” Id. at 4-5.

Interestingly, the appellate court stopped just shy of actually issuing the writ of prohibition. When initiating a writ of prohibition, the rules require that the petitioner name the judge or lower tribunal as a “formal party to the petition” in the body of the petition, but not add the judge’s name to the caption. Fla. R. App. P. 9.100(e). The opinion ruled in favor of the petitioner, but the court stated that it would “withhold issuance of this court’s writ confident that the court below will refrain from further action in this matter.” In other words, the Court did not want to embarrass the trial judge, but ordered him or her to stop taking action in the case.

Plaintiffs Must Overcome Defenses to Win Summary Judgment

Another appellate victory for  Dineen Wasylik and DPW Legal, overturning an improper grant of summary judgement in a foreclosure appeal.

Another appellate victory for
Dineen Wasylik and DPW Legal,
overturning an improper
grant of summary judgement
in a foreclosure appeal.

We are proud to report our firm racked up another appellate win yesterday — DPW Legal secured the reversal of summary judgment against our clients in a mortgage foreclosure action. In this case, the Bank before the trial court won summary judgement, even though its summary judgment motion made no mention of the defendants’ numerous affirmative defenses set out in their answer.

On appeal, we correctly pointed out that Rule 1.510 Requires that a motion for summary judgment “shall state with particularity the grounds upon which it is based and substantial matters of law to be argued,” as well as the myriad of cases that require plaintiffs to affirmatively overcome each and every defense before they can earn summary judgment. The appellate court ultimately agreed, and reversed the summary judgment, explaining:

It is true that the Bank did submit a response to an affidavit regarding the Paragraph 22 notice, disputing the Amstones’ affidavits that the notice had not been received or was deficient. But the Bank did not address the affirmative defenses in its motion for summary judgment. And at the hearing, the Bank’s counsel simply asserted that “the Affirmative Defenses were dealt with.” The Amstones’ counsel responded that the Bank had failed to refute all of the affirmative defenses…The Amstones’ counsel also emphasized that the affidavits regarding the Paragraph 22 notice crated a factual dispute that needed to be resolved. The court made no findings regarding any of these defenses. Accordingly, genuine issues of material fact remained, and summary judgment should not have been granted.

In our view, this was a case where strong advocacy at oral argument made a huge difference. What is not clear from the opinion is that the Bank argued that the defendants had waived this issue by failing to argue it on the record below, and the court seemed to want to buy that waiver argument. At oral argument, we were able to refute the waiver argument with citation directly to the proper part of the record showing why it was not waived. We’ve ordered the oral argument video, and will further expound on the important preservation issues in a later post, when we can share the video. But in the meantime, the lesson to be learned is that at the trial level, preservation is key, and at the appellate level, knowing your record cold is key (see my prior post on preparing for oral argument).

Attorney Ralph Fisher acted as able trial counsel, and ensured the issues were preserved on appeal.

The case is Amstone v. The Bank of New York Melon, No. 2D14-5480 (Jan. 6, 2016) [.pdf].