Federal Appellate Procedure

A litigant can file an appeal after a United States District Court, which is the federal trial court, enters a final judgment in the case. The person filing the appeal is called the appellant, and the other party is called the appellee. This article discusses the steps in the federal appellate procedural process when a case is appealed from a United States District Court to a United States Court of Appeals.

Notice of Appeal

The written notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the federal district court that rendered the judgment within 30 days after the judgment in civil cases or within 10 days after the judgment in criminal cases. If the civil case involves a federal party, such as the federal government, the time period for filing an appeal is 60 days. The appellant must pay any fees required for filing the notice of appeal, but the fees can be waived if the appellant is indigent.

Preparation and Content of Record on Appeal

The appellant is responsible for preparation of the record on appeal. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure state that the record consists of all original papers and exhibits filed in the federal district court, the transcripts of the federal district court's proceedings, and all certified docket entries. Generally, the federal court of appeals clerk has responsibility for monitoring whether the record is filed in a timely manner.


The appellant is required to file an opening brief, which is a legal memorandum that provides appellant's view of the law on questions raised in the appeal. In civil cases, the opening brief must be filed within 40 days of the filing of the record. In criminal cases, most of the federal courts of appeals require the opening brief to be filed within 40 days of the filing of the record. However, at least one circuit requires the opening brief in a criminal case to be filed within 30 days after the record is filed.

The appellant's brief cites laws or court decisions that suggest the federal district court's judgment should be reversed or overturned. The appellee is required to file a brief within 30 days after the appellant's opening brief is filed. The appellee's brief presents legal arguments leading to the conclusion that the federal district court's judgment was correct. The federal courts of appeals do not require the payment of a fee for filing briefs. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure specify the content and form of the briefs.

Amicus Curiae Briefs

An amicus curiae or friend of the court is not a party to the lawsuit but is a person or group that has a strong interest in the lawsuit. An amicus brief presents facts, law, or circumstances in the pending lawsuit that might not be discussed by the appellant and the appellee in their briefs. The federal courts of appeals permit the filing of amicus curiae briefs.

Dismissal of Appeals

The appeal may be dismissed if the appellant fails to complete arrangements for the preparation of the record or fails to pay any filing fees or transcript fees. The appellant's failure to file an opening brief also is a ground for dismissing the appeal.

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