Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Texas Courts of Appeals Reverse Rarely

Reversal Rates of the Texas Courts of Appeals: Less Than 15%


What Are the Odds of Winning An Appeal in Texas? The reversal rates of the Texas Supreme Court and the fourteen intermediate courts of appeals differ markedly. In Fiscal Year 2006 the Supreme Court, which is the court of last resort in civil and juvenile matters, reversed the lower courts - at least in part - in 71 % of the cases in which it granted a petition for review. The statewide reversal rate for courts of appeals, by contrast, was a mere 14.1% for civil cases and 4.6% for criminal cases. The combined rate for both types of cases was 9%. Computed as an average of all fourteen appellate courts (which differ greatly in size and case loads), the respective rates of success on appeal do not differ much: 15.4% for civil cases and 5.0% for criminal cases, with a combined rate of 9.9%.

Why Is the Supreme Court Reversal-Happy While the Courts of Appeals Are Just the Opposite? The principal reason for this difference appears to be that the Supreme Court exercises discretionary review; i.e. it picks and chooses the cases and the legal issues it wishes to address. Unlike an appeal to the highest court, the first appeal in a case is a matter of right. The intermediate courts of appeals must thus resolve each appeal on the merits unless DWOP is appropriate (often for failure to pay fees or to timely file a brief), dismissal is requested by the parties after an appeal is docketed, or the court finds other grounds to dismiss the appeal, such as want of jurisdiction (DWOJ). The Supreme Court simply abstains from deciding cases in which it would presumably affirm or dismiss if it were required to rule, and chooses instead to grant review in cases in which the justices want to resolve a conflict among the lower appeals courts, reverse existing precedent, or establish case law on issues of first impression.

Defining Reversal Differently. The reported reversal rates are based on liberal definition of reversal that includes cases in which the reviewing court affirmed the lower court but modified or “reformed” an element of the judgment entered by the trial court, or reversed in part and affirmed in part. If partial reversals and decisions “affirming the lower court’s judgment as reformed” are omitted from the computation, the rate of successful appeals falls below 10% for civil cases and below 4% for criminal cases. Statewide 6.6% of the civil cases were reversed and remanded, while in another 3.1% the court of appeals reversed the lower court and rendered judgment. For criminal cases the percentages were 2.9% and 0.3% for reverse & remand and reverse & render, respectively.

Are Some Appellate Courts More Likely to Reverse than Others? Yes. There are significant differences among the fourteen courts of appeals, and the odds of a successful appeal vary accordingly. With 4.9% the Dallas Court of Appeals had the lowest overall rate of reversals (9.5 % civil and 2.1% criminal cases) in FY 2006. The Texarkana Court had the highest (13.1%). The range is even wider when civil and criminal cases are considered separately. In civil appeals, the Amarillo Court reversed or altered the trial court’s judgment in 21.5% of the cases, more than twice as often as the Dallas Court of Appeals at the opposite end of the spectrum. With respect to criminal cases, the differences among the courts of appeals are even more striking. In Dallas, a mere 2.1% of criminal cases were reversed or reformed, whereas in Texarkana the rate exceeded 10%.

Source: Official Data from the Office of Court Administration
Texas Judicial System Annual Report Fiscal Year 2006

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