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How detailed is a de novo review in a civil appeal?

Houston, TX |

In a federal appealate court's de novo review, will the judges automatically examine all of the documents filed -- such as the arguments filed by both parties -- and then make their judgment independant of the one made by the lower court?

I know a brief has to be filed, but it surely is not going to have to substutute for the sum-total of all the previously-filed district court documents -- is it? That would seem impossible to cover so many pages of arguments, Law, etc. in such a small amount of space as is allowed in an appeal brief & reply.

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Attorney answers 2


A de novo review does not change the documents that can be reviewed by the appellate court in a direct appeal. In fact, in a direct appeal, the record is the same regardless of the standard of review applied by the appellate court -- it contains all documents that were filed at the trial court level as well as transcripts of the proceedings taking place at the trial court level (again, assuming these transcripts were ordered and paid for by the requesting party). The de novo review lets the appellate court make an independent assessment of the issues on appeal (in other words, the appellate court is not required to give any deference to the trial court's decision). But, as with all appeals, the only questions/issues that the appellate court is allowed to consider (absent extraordinary circumstances) are the issues and questions that were previously raised to the trial court (and answered by the trial court). Thus, if you are filing an appeal in a case (where you know the review will entail a de novo standard), you should select from the trial court questions/issues the questions/issues that provide you with the most chance for success and draft the brief to raise and adequately argue those issues.


Dear ?,

You ask what documents the federal court of appeals will review on your appeal. The short answer is: only those you have referenced in your brief, The court WILL NOT be examining every single page of the documents which make up the record on appeal. It will only examine those documents which are necessary to decide the issues you raise in the opening brief. So it is your duty to make sure the facts section and the argument section of your brief makes clear and pinpoint citations to those documents you say support your arguments. "Pinpoint" means citing to the specific page of the transcript or other document which has the evidence on it showing your sentence is true. Citations to the record usually go only at the end of sentences.

Yours sincerely,
Tim Provis
Cal. Bar No, 104800
Wis. Bar No. 1020123

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