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The harmless error rule on civil appeals; how do I deal with it and is this part of the standard of review or what?

Long Beach, CA |

I must appeal a pretrial decision to dismiss several Defendants on a partial sustaining of a demurrer . A Pro Bono appeals clinic lawyer says I must determine if errors of trial judge are “harmless” or not . Here , a trial judge refused to take judicial notice of evidence establishing court’s jurisdiction , and other evidence that proves allegations ( but maybe not jurisdictional ) . Can I get an explanation of the “harmless error” rule since it seems I must show no “harmless error " in addition to pointing out errors . ( And is this a thing affecting the standard of review ? And must I prove all errors were " harmful " ? Or just some types of errors , where some errors might be considered harmful automatically ? How does this work ? And this is a civil trial if that matters . )

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Attorney answers 3

Best Answer

Harmless error is not a simple rule. For a basic discussion of the harmless error rule, try this link


The appellate court will not overturn a judgment on the basis of any error that is harmless. A harmless error is an insignificant error that does not change the outcome of the case. For example, the introduction of improper evidence that goes to motive is harmless error in a criminal case where there is a conviction for an offense requiring no motive.

The bottom line is dont use a shotgun approach and nitpick at every little thing. You have to point out any istakes that are substantai.

Hope this helps... Good luck

This is for general information only. Nothing in this information should be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship nor shall any of this information be construed as providing legal advice. Laws change over time and differ from state to state. These answers are based on California Law.Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. You should not act upon the information presented herein without consulting an attorney about your particular situation. No attorney-client relationship is established.


As my colleague suggests, this a huge and complex area of appellate law.
Here is a shorthand version: as the appellant, you need to demonstrate that the trial court committed error, and that the error was prejudicial. If it was not prejudicial, it is deemed harmless.
A prejudicial error is one that more likely than not led to the adverse judgment or order. In your case, the prejudice is a given if the errors led to the dismissal of several defendants; that is, the dismissal was prejudicial because you lost the opportunity to prosecute the case against these defendants. If the ruling on the demurrer was legal error, it was ipso factor prejudicial.

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You can, for all practical purposes, never win an appeal just by showing that the judge made an error. The question after that is always, "So what?" And if you give it a moment's thought you will see that this is only common sense and as it should be. Harmless error analysis basically addresses the question, "Why should that make any difference?" If there is no good practical answer to that question then you deserve to lose your appeal regardless of what technical error may be in the record.

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