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How Does The Michigan Court of Appeals Work?

The Michigan Court of Appeals functions as the intermediate appellate court in the state. The Court of Appeals is established under Article VI of the 1963 Michigan Constitution and hears appeals of civil and criminal cases decided by the trial courts (Circuit and Probate Courts). The court also reviews the decisions of administrative agencies (tribunals). Cases are disposed of in the court based on practices and procedures denoted in the Michigan Court Rules (MCR).

The jurisdiction of the Michigan Court of Appeals is established by the state’s constitution, statutes, MCR 7.201. The court hears the following cases:

  • Appeals by right of final judgments or orders in civil cases decided by the Circuit Courts or Court of Claims, and other lower courts or tribunals
  • Appeals by right of final judgments or orders in criminal cases from the lower courts
  • Appeals by right of the judgment or order of a court or tribunal
  • Appeals by leave of civil cases, criminal cases, and administrative agency
  • Extraordinary writs, original actions, and enforcement actions such as habeas corpus and mandamus involving government officers
  • Any appeal or action established by statute
  • Appeals by the prosecution in criminal cases

An appeal is a request to review a lower court or tribunal decision because of an alleged error. The Court of Appeals hears two types of appeals: claims of appeal and applications for leave to appeal. The kind of appeal filed by an appellant largely depends on the type of case. The court also accepts requests for extraordinary writs or original actions. Original actions filed in the Court of Appeals include:

  • Supervision of a lower court or tribunal (Superintending Control)
  • An action to order a state official to perform duty (Mandamus)
  • Release of a person from illegal imprisonment (Habeas Corpus)

An appellant may file a claim of appeal when the right of appeal is given by a court rule, a statute, or the Michigan Constitution. When this right is not provided, the appellant may apply for a leave of appeal to ask for the court’s permission to appeal the case. Note, the court may grant or deny an application made under a level of appeal. In contrast, the court is mandated by law to accept the case under a claim of appeal.

Typically, claims of appeal originate from a circuit or probate court’s final orders or administrative agency. Not to say that it is not possible to file a claim of appeal from a lower court or tribunal in certain conditions, but a majority of appeals filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals from the other lower courts or tribunals are appeals by permission/leave. The decision on the appeal to file is based on:

  • Which kind of appeal has the most significant advantage to the case; and
  • If the appellant meets the conditions to file for the appeal

Prospective appellants may view the court’s criteria in the Filing Appeals and Original Actions Guide, as well as other information, instructions, and documents required to file an appeal or request action in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The time in which an appeal may be filed after a lower court makes a decision differs. In claims of appeal, criminal cases must be filed within 42 days after the entry of a judgment or order. In civil lawsuits, 21 days after entry of a judgment or order. However, in civil cases involving parental rights termination, the appeal window is expedited to 14 days. The length of time for filing may also be directed by statute according to the civil case type. Information on the filing schedule for applications may be viewed on the Filing Appeals and Original Actions Guide. In the court, appeals and actions are filed in person or by mail at one of the four court locations.

It is important to note that appeals are not conducted in a trial-like format. There are no defendants, plaintiffs, juries, presentation of evidence, or examination of witnesses. Instead, an appellant (aggrieved party) and appellee (opposing party) present a legal argument before the Court of Appeals judges. This legal argument is presented by filing a written document, otherwise known as a brief. Typically, a brief contains all the facts of a case to support an appeal. The deadline for submission of a brief is 56 days. However, this timeline may differ by case, as in the 28 days of child custody and termination of parental rights cases. In applications for leave to appeal, briefs are filed simultaneously with the application.

After filing a brief, under the court’s permission, an appellant is notified by mail of the date, time, and place. If the court does not grant permission, a date will still be set for submission of the case. Oral arguments are conducted before a panel of 3 judges for 15 minutes. Where both parties (appellant and appellee) argue at the same time, the time may sum up to 30 minutes, or as permitted by the court. Oral arguments are held Tuesday through Friday in the first and second weeks of a month. The court hears two-argument sessions per day, one beginning at 10:00 a.m. and the other at 11:00 a.m. Note, however, that oral arguments are available only to appellants who file for appeals by right.

Judgments in claims of appeal are made by written opinion. These opinions are released within weeks after argument or submission and are mailed or emailed to the appellants. In contrast, judgments from applications are made by written order. For applications that are denied by order, parties have the option of filing for reconsideration of the order within 21 days. If this motion is not filed or if the reconsideration is denied, the appeal is closed by the court. Cases from the Court of Appeals may be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Judges of the Michigan Court of Appeals serve 6-year terms and are elected by non-partisan elections in any of the court’s four geographical districts. The Court of Appeals has a chief judge in charge of the court’s administration, operation, and appointing the chief judge pro tempore. The exact number of judges in the Court of Appeals varies according to the court’s caseload. According to Article VI § 8, the number of judges was initially nine. However, this number has grown to suit the increasing caseload. Appeals are heard in the court all through the year and decided by a panel of three judges, except for a conflict panel made up of 7 judges. To be conclusive in the court, two of the three judges must agree on a decision, and this decision is used as a yardstick to guide a later appeal. A conflict panel is called to decide a case where a panel disagrees with a previous decision.

Judges are randomly assigned to cases and rotated among the court’s locations in Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids. Hearings are not scheduled in the Troy district as there is no courtroom present. During spring and fall, judges also hear Marquette cases or any other northern Michigan location selected by the chief judge.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has branches in Detroit, Troy, Grand Rapids, and Lansing. Below are the addresses of the court:

  • District 1 (Detroit)

Cadillac Place

3020 West Grand Boulevard Suite 14–300

Detroit, MI 48202–6020

Phone: (313) 972–5678

  • District 2 (Troy)

Columbia Center

201 West Big Beaver Road, Suite 800

Troy, MI 48084–4127

Phone: (248) 524–8700

  • District 3 (Grand Rapids)

State Office Building

350 Ottawa NorthWest

Grand Rapids, MI 49503–2349

Phone: (616) 456–1167

  • District 4 (Lansing)

Hall of Justice

925 West Ottawa Street

P. O. Box 30022

Lansing, MI 48909–7522

Phone: (517) 373–0786

There is no fixed time limit on how long a case may take in the Michigan Court of Appeals from filing to disposition. The appeals process is complex, and it may be several months before the court issues a decision. However, some cases may be resolved earlier than others. Mostly, this occurs when the court dismisses the case or denies the appellant permission to appeal.

The Michigan Court of Appeals docket (opinions, orders, case information) is available on the state’s judiciary website. Case information (1980 to present) is accessible via Case Search, while opinions and orders may be obtained using the Opinion & Order Search tool. To view case information, searchers may enter a case docket number, party’s name, or attorney’s information. Parties searching for an opinion or order from the Court of Appeals may enter details such as the party’s name, case docket number, a keyword, case type, date, lower court, case status, author, or panel number to get results.

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