The Iowa Supreme Court adopted amendments to Chapter 6 of the Iowa Court Rules, Iowa Rules of Appellate Procedure, effective April 1, 2024.
Appellate Procedure OverviewThis information is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should review the rules in full prior to taking any action.
Iowa has two appellate courts: the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals. The supreme court is the highest court in our state judicial system and its decisions are binding on all other Iowa state courts. The Iowa Court of Appeals decides cases that are transferred to it by the Supreme Court.
At the appellate level, the court does not conduct trials or hear new evidence; the appellate court will only review the evidence that was previously submitted in the district court to determine whether legal errors were committed in the rendering of the district court judgment. The appellate court can affirm, which means to uphold the decision of the district court; reverse, which means to set aside the decision of the district court; or remand, which means to send the case back to the district court with instructions, including instructions to hold a new trial. An appellate court decision is called an “opinion.” An opinion represents the collective decision of a majority of the justices or judges, rather than the decision of just one judge.
A party does not always have the right to appeal. In some cases, for example, those involving a simple misdemeanor crime or a small claims action, the party must seek permission from the supreme court to file an appeal. Additionally, in limited circumstances, a party may seek an early appeal, or an appeal in advance of final judgment or order, by obtaining permission from the supreme court.
Notice of Appeal
Usually, a party wishing to appeal a decision of the district court must file a notice of appeal. This must be filed within the specific time frame outlined in the Iowa Rules of Appellate Procedure. The notice is filed with the clerk of district court in the county where the order or judgment being appealed was entered and with the clerk of the supreme court. The appellant must pay a filing fee of $150 within seven days after filing the notice of appeal. This fee may be waived in certain circumstances.
Preparation of the Appeal
Following the filing of the notice of appeal, the parties must comply with a variety of rules contained in the Iowa Rules of Appellate Procedure. The party filing the notice of appeal is generally called the “appellant.” The opposing party in the case is usually called the “appellee.” The appellee may file a notice of cross-appeal if also dissatisfied with the final judgment or order.
In a typical case, the appellant orders the relevant and necessary transcripts of the district court proceedings from the court reporter, and files a certificate stating that the transcripts have been ordered. The transcript is a written verbatim account of the district court proceedings.
The parties file briefs, which are written documents setting forth the facts, legal arguments, and relief sought from the appellate court. The appellant must attach to the appellant’s brief a written copy of the judgment or order being appealed. The filing deadlines for briefs vary depending upon the type of case. Following the filing of the briefs, the appellant will request the transmission of the district court record to the clerk of the supreme court.
Case Preparation Time
The time required for the preparation of a typical case, from the filing of the notice of appeal to the filing of the briefs and request to transmit the record, is about five or six months. Court rules allow for an expedited process for certain types of cases, such as child in need of assistance, termination of parental rights, and criminal sentencing appeals.
Once a case file is ready it will be forwarded to a staff of research attorneys who will prepare summaries of each case and make recommendations concerning whether the case is appropriate for retention by the supreme court or should be transferred to the court of appeals. A panel of three supreme court justices makes the final decision on whether the case will be retained or transferred, which is generally based upon the types of issues raised in the appeal.
Submission of the Case
Each appellate court sets its own case submission schedule. In some instances, parties are granted an opportunity to address the court in person, a process known as oral argument. During oral arguments parties have a set period of time to summarize their legal arguments before the court and to answer questions asked by justices or judges. Both appellate courts have complete discretion whether or not to grant oral argument and will decide many cases without oral argument.
After a case is submitted, the justices or judges will discuss the case in a private conference. Later, the justice or judge who has been given the assignment of writing the court’s opinion (written ruling) will prepare a draft opinion. The opinion writer circulates copies of the draft opinion to the other members of the court who may comment on the draft or request revisions. This process will continue until a majority of the justices or judges agree with the opinion. A justice or judge who disagrees with the opinion may write a dissent. A justice or judge who agrees with the result, but not necessarily for the same reasons, may draft a special concurrence.
Rehearing and Further Review
A party dissatisfied with a decision may file a petition for rehearing asking the court that heard the case to reconsider its decision. Rehearing is rarely granted.
After an opinion is filed by the court of appeals, the parties may seek further review of the case by the supreme court. This procedure is commenced by filing an application for further review by following the applicable rules of appellate procedure. The supreme court has complete discretion to grant further review or not. If granted, the supreme court will consider the case and issue its own opinion. The supreme court may either affirm or vacate the court of appeals decision.
Appeals to the U. S. Supreme Court
The Iowa Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the Iowa court system, and its decisions on state law are final and cannot be further appealed. However, if a case involves a federal question, a party may request the United States Supreme Court to review the case and issue an opinion. The United States Supreme Court has discretion to decide whether or not it will grant this request. If the United States Supreme Court issues an opinion in a case, its decisions are final and cannot be further appealed.
Iowa Courts Online
You can see a list of the documents filed in nonconfidential appellate court cases using Iowa Courts Online here. Click on the “Appellate Court Case Search” link and start a search using the case number (“Appellate Docket Number”) or the name of one of the parties. When you find the case, click on the blue “Docket No.” link to find the case summary. From the horizontal menu, take the "Docket" link to find the documents filed in the case. The documents are not downloadable from Iowa Courts Online. Documents can be obtained at the clerk of the supreme court’s office in Des Moines or from the public access terminal in the county that the case originated. Information about confidential cases such as child in need of assistance and mental health cases is not available using Iowa Courts Online.
Common Legal Terms
Explore our legal glossary in both English and Spanish to better understand commonly used legal terms in the judicial system here.