Litigation is the process by which one party brings a lawsuit in a court of law seeking to remedy a wrong or enforce a legal right. Appealing is the process by which one party asks a higher court to review the decisions of the lower trial court for prejudicial legal errors.
The party who brings the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The party who defends the lawsuit is the defendant. In Chicago, a plaintiff begins litigation by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The complaint is a pleading in which the plaintiff alleges facts showing that the defendant committed a wrong and the plaintiff is entitled to compensation. The defendant files an answer to the complaint denying the plaintiff’s allegations. The defendant may also file a motion to dismiss instead of an answer if it is apparent that the plaintiff is not entitled to compensation under any set of facts.
Discovery is the next stage of litigation. Discovery is a fact gathering process by which the parties exchange documents and submit interrogatories. Interrogatories are written questions that the opposing party must answer under oath. The parties may also take depositions of the opposing party and witnesses. Depositions are oral questions that people must answer under oath in front of a court reporter.
When the discovery process is complete and the parties have all of the information to support their positions, one or both parties may decide to file a motion for summary judgment. This motion asks the judge to decide the merits of the entire case or certain issues. The judge cannot grant a motion for summary judgment in the moving party’s favor if there are issues of fact that must be tried by a jury.
If the judge cannot issue summary judgment in favor of the moving party, then the case will proceed to trial, unless the parties reach a settlement beforehand. Many courts often require the parties to submit to mediation. Mediation is an informal procedure by which a third-party or mediator helps the parties resolve their dispute. If the parties cannot settle the case, it will go to trial. However, many cases settle through mediation.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court hears appeals of cases arising out of Cook County. The appellate court’s function is to determine whether the circuit court committed any prejudicial legal errors. The appellate court does not consider any evidence that was not presented in the circuit court. Nor does the appellate court search for legal errors on its own. The appealing party bears the responsibility to tell the appellate court why the circuit court’s decisions were contrary to the law.
In Chicago, the appealing party must file a notice of appeal with the Cook County Circuit Clerk within 30 days from the date of the order that is the reason for the appeal. Not all orders can be immediately appealed. For example, if the judge grants a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the order resolves the entire case, then the plaintiff can appeal that order. On the other hand, if the judge denies the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, he or she cannot appeal that order because the case is not over. The trial of the case still remains. Generally, only final orders can be immediately appealed. If there is anything left for the circuit court to do in the case, then the order cannot be immediately appealed.
Usually, the final state appellate court in Illinois is the Supreme Court of Illinois, although in very rare circumstances the U.S. Supreme Court will review a state court case. Cases arising out of Illinois federal district courts are appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The final federal appellate court is the U.S Supreme Court, which is very selective of the cases it reviews.
Litigation & Appeals Attorney
While parties are allowed to represent themselves, it is generally not a good idea. People should consider retaining an experienced Litigation & Appeals attorney to help them navigate through complicated laws and procedural rules. The smallest oversight can be the difference between winning and losing a case.