After Dogwood, it is fairly rare that an appellate court will dismiss an appeal for rules violations. However, that reluctance does not give carte blanche to appellate practitioners, as the Court of Appeals reminded us today. In Williamson v. Williamson, the appellant relied on “bald assertions of error absent citation to any legal authority.” Furthermore, the appellant did not include transcripts from the trial court hearings, which prevented the court from “meaningful appellate review.” For both of those reasons, the court dismissed the appeal.
By itself, Williamson may not be that surprising, although it is still a good reminder that rules violations can lead to dismissal of an appeal. But the Court of Appeals was not finished with its reminders. In fact, the court issued several other opinions reminding appellate practitioners of possible sanctions for failing to abide by appellate rules and procedures.
For example, ACC Construction, Inc. v. Suntrust Mortgage, Inc. involved a longstanding dispute and several lawsuits regarding the priority of a lien. The trial court granted Suntrust’s motion to dismiss the latest iteration, and the Court of Appeals affirmed based on res judicata. The court also affirmed an award of attorney fees as sanctions for bringing the lawsuit. But in a rare move, the court also granted Suntrust’s motion for appellate attorney fees. Concluding that the appeal was “frivolous and taken for an improper purpose,” the court took the fairly unusual step of awarding fees and costs to the appellee.
In Bodie v. Bodie, the appellant identified seventeen separate errors in an equitable distribution order, causing the Court of Appeals to quote Judge Kethledge’s infamous opinion from the Sixth Circuit: “When a party comes to us with nine grounds for reversing the district court, that usually means there are none.” But more important than that initial concern, the appellant did not include transcripts from the trial court proceedings. (Interestingly, the court noted that transcripts submitted in previous appeals from the same case would not be considered in this appeal.) Without an opportunity to review the evidence on which the trial court relied, the Court of Appeals presumed that the trial court acted correctly and affirmed the order.
Notably, the common thread among all of these cases is that they had all traveled to the Court of Appeals on multiple occasions. Perhaps the takeaway is that if you are going to take the same case to the Court of Appeals for the second (or third or fourth) time, make sure that you are doing so properly and definitely make sure that you are following the appellate rules.