Litigation & Appeals
When you find yourself facing a legal dispute that may require civil litigation, it can be daunting to those unfamiliar with the litigation process. At Cole Law, our team of dedicated and experienced Nashville civil litigation attorneys is here to help navigate you through the legal process, litigate your issues, and resolve your legal disputes.What Is Civil Litigation?
Litigation is the legal process of filing a lawsuit or otherwise resolving legal issues between two adverse parties through the court system. Unlike criminal cases, which are brought by the state or federal government against the accused, a civil litigation case starts when one person elects to file a lawsuit against another.
Attorneys who are experienced in civil litigation can often assist in many different types of legal matters, such as family law; personal injury; employment law; business and commercial litigation; real property litigation; intellectual property issues; products liability claims; consumer protection cases; probate and estate matters; civil rights litigation; education law cases; and defamation and privacy litigation.Who Are the Parties Involved?
There are at least two parties involved in every civil litigation case: the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff is the party who starts the litigation process by filing a lawsuit. The defendant is the party who is sued by the plaintiff and has to defend against that lawsuit. Each party may have one or more attorneys representing them, or they may elect to proceed without an attorney, also known as pro se. Some cases will have multiple plaintiffs or defendants.Pleadings and Initial Filings
Pleadings are the initial filings in every lawsuit which are the foundational documents of the litigation. The first pleading is the complaint, which will be filed by the plaintiff and will set forth the legal claims and facts being alleged in the lawsuit. In response to the complaint, the defendant must file the next pleading, which is known as an answer. In an answer, the defendant will admit or deny the allegations made in the plaintiff’s complaint and may allege claims of his or her own against the plaintiff, referred to as counterclaims. If counterclaims are alleged by the defendant, the plaintiff will have to respond to those counterclaims in a pleading called a reply.Discovery
Discovery is the stage of the civil litigation process where the parties have an opportunity to obtain additional evidence from one another. Depositions are a common tool used during the discovery process, which present an opportunity to take sworn testimony from a witness or party to the lawsuit. Interrogatories are another discovery tool, which consist of written questions and requests for information sent by one party to the other which must be answered under oath. A third discovery tool commonly employed in the litigation process is requests for production of documents, which are similar to interrogatories, but instead require the party they are directed at to produce documents and other tangible or written evidence responsive to the requests.Pre-Trial Motions
Throughout the civil litigation process, both sets of attorneys will commonly file motions back and forth. A motion is a court filing asking the court to make a ruling on a particular legal issue. Commonly a motion to dismiss will be filed after the complaint and before trial. A motion to dismiss typically alleges that for one reason or another, the plaintiff has failed to state a proper legal claim in their lawsuit. A motion for summary judgment is another common pre-trial motion, which tests whether, based on all the evidence presented in the case, there is a genuine dispute of material fact sufficient to warrant sending the case to trial, or if a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law without the need for a trial. Other pretrial motions may include motions to compel discovery, motions for temporary restraining orders if the parties need to be kept away from each other during the litigation process, or motions seeking to exclude or admit certain evidence before the trial begins.The Trial Process
The trial process can either take place before a judge (known as a bench trial) or a jury. If a jury trial is demanded, the trial process will begin with voir dire, or the process by which jurors are selected. After jury selection, both sets of attorneys will give opening statements, setting forth their clients’ theories of the case and an overview of their arguments in the lawsuit. After opening statements, each side will have an opportunity to present evidence to the jury. The plaintiff will go first, and may call witnesses with knowledge of the facts, introduce exhibits for the jury to review, or rely on expert witness testimony. The defendant will have the same opportunity to present their case after the plaintiff’s. When both parties have finished presenting their evidence to the jury, the attorneys will give their closing arguments, which are essentially a summary of the case. The jury will then deliberate and return a verdict on the legal claims submitted in the case.Post-Trial Motions
Just because a civil litigation trial is over, does not mean the losing party has no other options. Usually, the party who loses the court case at trial will file one or multiple post-trial motions. A common example of this is a motion for a new trial, which may typically be filed if there was some procedural irregularity or error in the legal court proceedings, jury misconduct occurred, or new material evidence has been discovered that was not available at trial. Another example of a post-trial motion commonly filed in civil litigation cases is a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which may be granted if the judge concludes that no reasonable jury could have reached the jury’s verdict based on the evidence presented at trial, or if the jury incorrectly applied the law in reaching its verdict.Judgment
At the conclusion of the trial process, the judge will enter a judgment ruling in favor of one party or the other on the legal claims. The judgment will also include an award of damages, ordering one party to pay a certain amount of money to the other. If the party against whom judgment is entered does not have sufficient funds available to pay, the prevailing party may place a judgment lien on that party’s house or issue attachments on that party’s other property, which can potentially lead to foreclosure on the home or the seizure of the party’s other assets.Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is an attempt to work out the differences between the two sides of the lawsuit. ADR can take place at any time in the litigation process before trial and involves a neutral, third-party mediator or arbitrator moderating discussions between the parties in an attempt to resolve the legal dispute subject to litigation. ADR may take place in the form of mediation, where a final decision is ultimately reached between the two parties to the lawsuit, or through arbitration, where an arbitrator will act as the decision-maker and reach a verdict after analyzing case details. The parties to a lawsuit may also elect to enter into a settlement agreement, which is not negotiated by a neutral, third-party mediator or arbitrator, but rather will be negotiated by the parties’ attorneys. Settlement is generally a quicker and cheaper form of ADR than mediation or arbitration.What Are Appeals?
If you have made it all the way through the civil litigation process and a judgment has been entered against you, all hope is not lost. You may still resort to the appellate process as an option to reach a favorable outcome. In its simplest form, an appeal is a challenge to a previous legal determination. Unlike the trial court process, the appellate process reviews the record of your already-existing lawsuit. Therefore, the Court of Appeals will only review the evidence in the record from your civil litigation trial.Appellate Jurisdiction
The Tennessee Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over civil litigation cases that are appealed in Tennessee. There are 12 judges on the Tennessee Court of Appeals and they will sit in panels of 3 to hear appellate cases. The appeals court will look to whether there is material evidence to support the verdict obtained at trial, and whether any errors occurred in applying the law during the trial process. Not every error of law will be grounds for overturning the case though, as some may be considered harmless error if they did not prejudice the rights of either party.Filing an Appeal
To file an appeal, the appealing party must have their attorney file a notice of appeal promptly after judgment is entered at trial. Once this has happened, the parties’ attorneys will prepare briefs for review by the appellate court, which are legal documents setting forth the basis upon which the parties are appealing or opposing the appeal of the result at trial. Filing an appeal does not necessarily stop the winning party at trial from executing on its judgment. The losing party at trial may need to file a supersedeas bond to prevent further action on the judgment until the case has been heard by the court of appeals.Oral Arguments
Once the Court of Appeals has had an opportunity to review the appellate briefs of the parties’ attorneys, oral arguments may be scheduled for the appeal, either by the Court of Appeals or at the request of one party. Each party’s attorney will have an opportunity to explain their case to the Court of Appeals and answer questions the judges may have. It is important that your appeals attorney put forth persuasive arguments to the judges such that any questions or concerns they may have can be addressed on the front end.The Appellate Decision
Once oral arguments have been heard by the Court of Appeals, the judges will issue an opinion on the appeal. The Court of Appeals has the authority to affirm or uphold the result of the trial process; to overturn, or reverse the result of the trial process; or to remand the case for further legal proceedings at the trial court level. The Court of Appeals will issue a written appellate opinion setting forth the basis for its holding and providing further instructions for the case procedure, if applicable.Enforcing Appellate Judgments
If the appeals court affirms the trial court judgment, then the case usually ends. An appealing party who has lost their appeal may petition the Tennessee Supreme Court for permission to file an additional appeal before the state’s highest court. However, parties are only entitled to one appeal as of right, and it is uncommon for a case to have more than one appeal after trial is over. If the appellate opinion has overturned or remanded the holding of the trial court, the appellate court will provide instructions to the trial court on what to do next. This can include ordering a new trial, modifying the lower court judgment, or instructing the trial court to reconsider the facts in the record, review additional evidence, or reconsider the case in light of recent decisions by the appeals court.Cole Law Can Help
The legal process of litigation and appeals is incredibly long and complex. Thankfully, at Cole Law, our skill and experience in handling a variety of civil litigation and appellate matters allows us to guide you through that process, making the complex process simple. Our attorneys are licensed to practice in all Tennessee state courts, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of TN, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of TN, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of TN, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, we are able to assist you through the litigation and appeals process in a variety of different court levels.
We understand how important it is for clients to be in the driver’s seat of their litigation or appeals case, but that journey is harder on unfamiliar roads. Here at Cole Law, we have driven those roads countless times before and are here to help you navigate, litigate and resolve your legal issues.