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FAQs about the Alaska Appellate Courts

How do you know which court to file your appeal in?

It depends who decided your original case and the case type.

Final decision or judgment entered by: Where you appeal:
Administrative agency Superior Court, except for
Workers′ Compensation Board decisions
District Courtcivil case Superior Court
District Court – criminal case Superior Court or Court of Appeals
Superior Courtcivil case Supreme Court
Superior Court – criminal case Court of Appeals
Court of Appeals – criminal case Supreme Court (note: this is not automatic and the Supreme Court needs to accept a petition for hearing)

In some cases, there may more than one court you can appeal in, so you should talk to an attorney to decide where to file. You can read more about which courts hear what type of appeals.

This section provides general information about the Alaska Appellate Courts. The rest of this website provides detailed information for people filing an appeal from a civil case decided in the Superior Court to the Supreme Court.

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What is the difference between the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court?

In Alaska, there are different appellate courts depending on which court heard your case in the first place and what type of case it was. The Supreme Court is the highest court and it hears all civil appeals from the Superior Court. It also hears some criminal appeals from the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals hears all criminal appeals from the Superior Court and some from the District Court, but no civil appeals.

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What types of cases do the appellate courts hear?

There are 4 main types of cases:

  1. Appeals
  2. Petitions for hearing
  3. Petitions for review
  4. Original applications

Each type of case is decribed below and has a special procedure.

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What is an appeal?

An appeal is the review of a final judgment or order of a lower court.

If you do not like the final decision from the lower court and you think the judge made a legal mistake, you can file an appeal. If you are appealing the decision made by the Superior Court in a civil case, you appeal to the Supreme Court. If you are appealing the decision made by the Superior Court in a criminal case, you appeal to the Court of Appeals.

The lower court sends its files which are called "the record" to the appellate court. The parties file appeal briefs in the appellate court which are written arguments that explain why they think the lower court's decision should be reversed or affirmed. They can also request oral argument which is when they appear before the appellate court and argue their case.

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What is a petition for hearing?

A petition for hearing asks a higher appellate court to review a lower appellate court′s final decision. Most petitions for hearing request that the Supreme Court review the Court of Appeals' decision in a criminal case. The court will not automatically consider a petition for hearing. Instead, the court will decide whether it wants to hear the matter. In the first stage of the proceeding, the petitioner tries to persuade the Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals' decision. If the Court denies the petition, it will not review the merits and the Court of Appeals' decision stands. If the Court grants the petition, it may issue an order or it may request that the parties file appeal briefs explaining the issues in writing. If the Court requests briefing, then the case proceeds like an appeal and the Court will issue an opinion. Read Appellate Rules 302-305 for more information about a petition for hearing.

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What is a petition for review?

A petition for review is a request for review of an order issued by the lower court before there is a final judgment. For example, if a party does not like the Superior Court's decision on a motion, the party can file a petition for review to the Supreme Court. First the petitioner (person filing the petition for review) has to convince the Supreme Court that it should review the order. The Supreme Court will not automatically consider the issue on appeal. If the Court grants the petition, the court may issue an order or it may request the parties to file appeal briefs explaining the issues in writing. If the Court requests briefing, the rest of the case proceeds basically like an appeal. Ultimately the Court will issue an opinion. Read Appellate Rules 402-403 for more information about a petition for review.

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What is an original application for relief?

This is a proceeding that is used when no other category applies. The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the issues so it is handled like a petition for review described above. Read Appellate Rule 404 for more information about an original application of relief.

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What does the Appellate Court Clerk's Office do?

The Appellate Court Clerk's Office deals with all paperwork that comes into and out of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The Clerk's Office is the link between:

and

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What does the case manager do?

The case manager works in the Appellate Court Clerk's Office and is responsible for specific appeal cases from start to finish. Case managers:

Once your appeal is started, you will receive the direct phone number and e-mail address of the case manager responsible for your case. Contact the case manager with questions about your appeal.

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Can the Appellate Courts Clerk's Office staff give legal advice?

No. They cannot give you legal advice on how to interpret the law or strategies for your appeal. This means that they cannot tell you whether a certain argument is likely to win an appeal or what cases to rely on in making your arguments.

They can give you information about court procedures or forms. For example, the Appellate Court Clerk's Office can explain what sections are required for appeal briefs and what the formatting should be. They can also tell you what deadlines are involved in an appeal, including when appeal briefs are due or when you need to request oral argument.

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What are the Rules of Appellate Procedure?

They are the rules that explain the procedure of how appeals are handled. The Rules contain information about deadlines for filing different documents in the different stages of the appeal. They also discuss the format for what the documents should look like. This includes paper size, page length, type size and the type of information that should be discussed.

Copies of the Rules of Appellate Procedure are found in public libraries, law libraries in courthouses, and on the Internet on the Court System's website.

The Rules are modified regularly, sometimes every six months. Make sure you have the most recent version of the Appellate Rules.

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Do the appellate courts accept new evidence?

No. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals do NOT retry the case, take new evidence, or weigh the credibility of witnesses. The appeal must be based on the record created in the Superior Court. Generally, the appealing party must demonstrate that the Superior Court made a legal mistake. If there was a mistake, it also has to have been important enough that it could have made a difference to the outcome of the case. If you had a trial, the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals will not second-guess the Superior Court judge or jury and find in your favor simply because you had more witnesses or more evidence than the other side.

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How does the Supreme Court decide who wins on appeal?

The justices read all of the appeal briefs that the parties file and listen to the oral arguments if they happen. They meet, discuss the case, and vote on the outcome. They base their opinion on their interpretation of the relevant laws and past opinions that apply to the issues in the appeal.

One of the justices writes an opinion for the majority. If there is a disagreement, a justice may write a dissenting opinion for the minority.

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Can you contact the appellate court justices or judges?

No. You cannot contact any justice or judge directly regarding your appeal at any time. This means you cannot contact them by phone, letter, e-mail or in person.

The justices or judges can only take action in an appeal that is before the court at that time. During your appeal case, if you need to make a request of the court, you file a motion at the Appellate Court Clerk's Office. Please read our motions page to understand how to request something from the Supreme Court. Once the appeal is over, the case is done and there is no need to communicate with the justices or judges that decided your case. Be aware that the justices or judges cannot send letters on your behalf. You are welcome to make copies of documents in your appeal file if you need them for future use.

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Do you always file appeals from administrative agency decisions to the Superior Court?

Usually, if you are appealing a final decision of an administrative agency, you will file the appeal in the Superior Court. However, with some some case types, there are special issues about where to file an appeal.

If you are appealing an Alaska Workers′ Compensation Board decision, first you file an appeal to the Workers′ Compensation Appeals Commission. If you are unhappy with the Commission′s decision, you can file an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

To understand which court is the right place to file an appeal of a child support order, you need to figure out whether the Child Support Services Division (CSSD) or the Superior Court ordered the child support. If you are appealing a final decision from CSSD, the Superior Court will decide your appeal. If you are appealing a final judgment or decree issued by the Superior Court in a divorce or custody case, the Alaska Supreme Court will decide your appeal.

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What resources are there for appeals from administrative agency decisions or district court decisions?

Your local court should have the following instruction pamphlet for appeals from administrative agencies, like CSSD or the DMV, to the Superior Court:

These other pamphlets discuss appealing from the District Court to the Superior Court:

You will also find links to lower court appellate forms on the Court System's forms page and additional forms for the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court on the Appellate Courts page. The Appellate Rules, Part VI discusses the procedure for appeals to the Superior Court from District Court or an administrative agency.

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How do you appeal from the Superior Court to the Supreme Court?

To get general information about filing an appeal from the Superior Court to the Supreme Court, please read the Appeals Homepage. For detailed information, including forms and instructions about each part of an appeal, please visit the Forms and Instructions page.

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Rev. 08 January 2008
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