How Post-Trial Motions Might Factor Into Your Appeal

Generally, a losing party is not required to file a post-trial motion to raise an error of law on appeal. This is the basic rule for California state court proceedings. But there are exceptions to this rule, and knowing the difference is critical to protecting your appellate rights. However, even where a post-trial motion is merely optional, it may not be a good idea. If you’re wondering whether a post-trial motion should be filed in your matter, let our experienced team advise you.

The general rule: post-trial motions not required for errors of law

A litigant who is unhappy with the result of a trial may naturally want to request a new one. The basis for doing so could be alleged errors of law. These may include, for instance, application of an incorrect legal standard to the facts in the case. However, it’s likely not necessary to ask for a new trial on this basis. The unsatisfied litigant can instead raise these errors as grounds for appealing the trial court’s decision.

Of course, as with many rules in California appellate law, there are some exceptions. We’ll consider a few of them.

Exception 1: issues concerning the amount of damages

If the damages awarded were too high or too low, a motion for a new trial must be filed. Failure to do so will usually preclude the litigant from appealing the matter. The reasoning is simple: the trial court is in a better position to judge this issue. For instance, the trial court can better determine whether the jury was improperly influenced in its decision. The trial court is also able to more adequately weigh the evidence presented.

Exception 2: evidence that is newly discovered after trial

If evidence has come to light after trial that may have impacted the decision, a new trial must be requested. Appellate courts generally do not review evidence to determine how reliable it is. In other words, the trial court is usually the proper forum for evaluating evidence. Newly discovered evidence should therefore be raised there before an appeal. Although these matters may eventually reach the Court of Appeal, a motion for a new trial is a prerequisite.

Exception 3: juror misconduct

Proof of juror misconduct will require the admission of evidence. Again, this is not something appellate courts are in the proper position to handle. Appellate courts do not replace trial courts as the forum in which to introduce evidence and facts. To preserve issues related to juror misconduct for appeal, therefore, there should be a motion for a new trial.

If you request a new trial, be careful

Let’s assume your case does not fall into one of the exceptions requiring you to request a new trial. You may still want to file your post-trial motion to ask for one. If you do so, be careful. Trial courts cannot act on their own to grant a new trial. The unhappy litigant is the one who must invoke the right to ask for it. Making mistakes in doing so can be costly.

California statutes set forth the procedures required to file a post-trial motion. Failure to state the grounds upon which the court should consider the motion will exclude them from the court’s consideration. Put another way: an error in filing could deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to grant a new trial. Remember, the trial court doesn’t have the authority on its own to order a new trial. The judge can’t read your mind or guess why you want a new trial. You, the litigant, must specifically explain why it should be granted.

Reasons you may not want a new trial

If a post-trial motion for a new trial is purely discretionary, carefully consider whether to file one. If the judge was clearly sympathetic to the other side during trial, a motion may accomplish nothing. Or, at least, nothing good. At a minimum, a new trial with an unsympathetic judge may only solidify the rulings against you. This doesn’t set you up for a successful appeal.

Talk To A Knowledgeable Appellate Attorney About Post-Trial Motions

Gusdorff Law’s appellate consulting practice regularly advises litigants concerning post-trial motions. We can also guide you throughout the trial itself and handle the full scope of your appeal. Give us a call today to find out more and discuss any questions you have about California appeals.