The North Carolina Court of Appeals released several opinions today that dealt with insufficient (or missing) briefs. These decisions provide several good reminders to appellate practitioners of the importance of submitting a carefully written and fully developed brief.
1) File All Required Briefs
Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. v. Reed involved the reformation of a deed of trust securing a home purchase. Countrywide provided a loan to the purchaser, and the deed listed the purchaser’s daughter and son-in-law as additional grantees. After the purchaser died, the daughter and son-in-law defaulted on the loan. Countrywide filed suit, seeking reformation of the deed of trust, which had only been signed in the name of the principal purchaser. Upon cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted summary judgment to Countrywide but also found that a loan modification agreement did not create an encumbrance on the property.
The defendants appealed the summary judgment ruling, and Countrywide also sought to appeal the ruling on the loan modification agreement. However, Countrywide did not file a cross-appellant’s brief. The Court of Appeals explained that when an appellee is “seeking affirmative relief in the appellate division rather than simply arguing an alternative basis in law for supporting the judgment,” then the appellee must file a cross-appellant’s brief. Countrywide’s cross-appeal was therefore dismissed because Countrywide did not file an appropriate brief.
Remember that an appellee may list proposed issues on appeal without taking an appeal “based on any action or omission of the trial court . . . that deprived the appellee of an alternative basis in law for supporting the judgment . . . .” N.C. R. App. P. 10(c). This rule allows an appellee to identify and rely upon additional bases for the trial court’s decision beyond those challenged by the appellant. If, however, the appellee intends to challenge a separate decision or action of the trial court, the appellee becomes a cross-appellant. A cross-appellant must file his own notice of appeal (within ten days of the first notice of appeal) and an appellant’s brief.
2) Give Adequate Reasoning for Your Position
The defendants in Eaton v. Campbell appealed from judgments entered against them for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, actual fraud, constructive fraud, and unfair and deceptive trade practices. The defendants argued that the lower court had applied the wrong law, but the defendants did not state what law the court should have applied. The Court of Appeals found that those “limited and unsupported arguments” were insufficient to disturb the trial court’s judgment.
Remember that the purpose of the brief “is to define clearly the issues presented to the reviewing court and to present the arguments and authorities upon which the parties rely in support of their respective positions thereon.” N.C. R. App. P. 28(a).
3) Make Sure to Include All Arguments
In Pickney v. Department of Transportation, the plaintiff appealed a judgment against him on his claims for breach of contract and constitutional violations. The plaintiff alleged that the Department of Transportation, his former employer, had violated a 2004 settlement agreement regarding the plaintiff’s charges of employment discrimination. The plaintiff sought to appeal some aspects of the judgment but did not develop his arguments. The court affirmed the familiar principle that “the Court has no obligation to supplement an appellant’s brief with legal authority or arguments not contained therein.” Because the plaintiff did not address or challenge some of the conclusions reached by the lower court, the Court of Appeals found that it could not grant relief.
Of course, this rule also applies to criminal cases. See, e.g., State v. Rouse (declining “to address any remaining assertions in support of which defendant has failed to present authority or argument as required by the Appellate Rules”).
Remember that “[t]he scope of review on appeal is limited to issues so presented in the several briefs. Issues not presented and discussed in a party’s brief are deemed abandoned.” N.C. R. App. P. 28(a).
All of these cases demonstrate the importance of filing proper briefs in the Court of Appeals and the possible ramifications for failing to do so. Certainly, consult the Appellate Rules for complete guidance on the preparation of briefs. Additional helpful information can be found in the Appellate Style Manual.