IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER: A Brief Overview of Nevada Appellate Law

Article by: Joseph C. Reynolds

No matter what opinion an administrative hearing officer, a district court judge, or a jury may issue in civil or criminal litigation, it is not the end of the story. A case is not truly won or lost until a decision is rendered on appeal. Only then is it over.

Fortunately, our state and federal legal systems are structured with layers of judicial review, whereby litigants have the opportunity for additional sets of eyes (and ears) beyond a trial court setting to review their case and be heard. In Nevada, appellate law begins and ends with practice before the Nevada Supreme Court.

About the Nevada Supreme Court
Origins of the Nevada Supreme Court predate Nevada’s statehood, when three justices were appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to preside over the legal affairs of the Nevada Territory. Today, the Nevada Supreme Court consists of seven justices elected by Nevadans to serve six-year terms in office.

To help expedite its review of cases, the seven member Court annually organizes itself into two three-justice panels: a Northern Panel and a Southern Panel. One of the seven justices serves as the Chief Justice and is determined annually based on seniority and court rules. The Chief Justice oversees administrative matters during their tenure.

Currently, the Honorable Justice Ron Parraguirre is the Chief Justice. Beginning January 1, 2023, the Honorable Lidia Stiglich will be the Chief Justice.

When to File an Appeal
There are instances when an issue of high public importance that involves an interpretation of the Nevada Constitution may be raised directly with the Nevada Supreme Court, or rare instances where an issue may be raised on appeal during mid-trial. However, most appeals are not properly filed until a final decision is made by a hearing officer, a judge, or a jury, i.e., one that resolves the entire litigation between the parties. If an appeal is not filed within 30 days of the final order, the ability to appeal is generally waived. Time is always of the essence.

Types of Appeals
Common appellate actions include petitions for judicial review, direct appeals, and writ petitions. If the legal proceeding was before a Nevada administrative hearing officer, body, or commission, you may appeal a decision of the administrative agency to a district court. This is referred to as a petition for judicial review. If the proceeding was before a district court judge or jury, you may appeal that decision ‘directly’ to the Nevada Supreme Court. This is referred to as a direct appeal. Upon receipt, the Nevada Supreme Court will perform an initial screening of the appeal and decide whether it is within its jurisdiction or should be transferred to the Nevada Court of Appeals for review. An original writ petition is technically not an appeal at all, as it bypasses the traditional factfinding process in a lower court. It is a request for relief made directly to the Nevada Supreme Court. A writ is reserved for extraordinary circumstances. They are rarely granted.

Only Issues of Law
Not all matters will be considered on appeal. Factual findings are not made. New evidence is not heard. An appeal is generally limited to review of the record, which consists of the evidence, transcripts, and rulings that have already been made. Therefore, what is (or is not) included in the record can often set in motion the fate of an appeal. To each of the above rules, there are exceptions. Then there are exceptions to the exceptions. If you do not agree, you may appeal.

This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue of Nevada Business Magazine. Joe Reynolds may be reached at the Firm’s Reno office at [email protected] or 775.853.8746.