Phillips & Ingrum

Appeals in Tennessee Civil Cases, Part 1

By Grayson Cannon

Phillips-Ingrum-Headshots-219I often get asked whether a court’s decision can be appealed to a “higher authority,” and what the appeal might be like.  This two-part discussion will cover some basic information about appeals in civil cases in Tennessee.

There are avenues of appeal from most civil courts.  However, there may be limitations on what can be appealed, what the appeal can be about, and whether you will have to post a bond if you appeal a judgment against you.  The time in which a court decision can be appealed also varies from court to court and if the appeal deadline is missed, there may be nothing you can do.

In General Sessions Court, an unsuccessful civil litigant has the right to appeal their case to the Circuit Court for that jurisdiction.  No particular ground for the appeal has to be given.   In order to appeal, the appellant (the party appealing) will have to post some sort of bond for the court costs of the appeal.  Forms for the bond are usually available from the Court, or your lawyer can prepare the bond.  When the case is appealed to Circuit Court, the parties are starting over and get a whole new trial.  The legal term for this is “de novo.”  Some courts have local rules that require that appeals from General Sessions Court to Circuit Court be set for trial within a certain number of days or the appeal will be dismissed and the judgment in General Sessions Court will then be reinstated.  A litigant only has ten days to appeal from General Sessions court in Tennessee, so action must be taken quickly.

Appealing a decision in Juvenile Court can be more complicated, and may depend on which type of case is being appealed.  Appeals of custody matters that were based upon a parentage petition will go to a different court than those for a dependent and neglected determination that may result in a decision about custody, for example, although there are thirty days to appeal each type of case.  Appeals of custody or other parenting issues in a parentage petition will be to the Court of Appeals and will be reviewed as discussed in the next segment of this blog about appeals to this Court.  However, appeals from a decision stemming from a dependent/neglected matter will be de novo to the Circuit Court for that jurisdiction.   If the case was first  heard before a juvenile court referee or magistrate, the case will first be appealed to the judge of the court and will also be a new or “de novo” hearing.  Appeals from the magistrate to the judge must be made within ten days except in the case of a child support determination, where there are only five days to appeal.  Bonds in these appeals are not required, but may be necessary in order to obtain a stay of the unfavorable ruling since the ruling of the lower court will remain in effect unless a stay on appeal is granted.

In our next installment of this blog, we will discuss appeals to Tennessee’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.  As you can already see, however, even appeals from lower courts can be confusing and may require the assistance of a lawyer to get right.  These appeals must also be done very promptly in most cases.  If you are unsure about your rights, consult an attorney immediately.