Minnesota Court Records
How Does the Minnesota Court Of Appeals Work?
The Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in Minnesota. The court was established to provide prompt, fair, and unbiased resolutions to appeals of orders and judgments of the state’s trial courts. Under Section 1, Article VI of the Minnesota Constitution, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over the following:
- Trial court decisions
- Decisions of the Commissioner of Economic Security
- Administrative agency decisions
- Originating actions from writs of mandamus or prohibition which order a trial judge or public official to perform a specified act
- State agencies and local governments
Minnesota Court of Appeals does not have jurisdiction over appeals originating from the following cases:
- First-degree murder convictions
- Minnesota Tax court
- Minnesota worker’s compensation appeals court
- Statewide election contests,
In these cases, appeals may go directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals comprises 19 judges who are initially appointed to approximate six-year terms. Candidates first compete in primary elections, after which the top two proceed to the general non-partisan elections. After the provisional six-year term, a judicial performance commission reviews the judge’s work, interviews the judge, and decides whether the performance meets the required standards. In the subsequent general election, Minnesota citizens then vote to retain the judge. The performance commission reviews each judge’s performance every four years and submits a voter recommendation every eight years.
The governor appoints interim judges when there is a mid-term vacancy. Interim judges who wish to serve another term must run in the next election if scheduled more than one year after their appointment. The chief judge is selected by the governor from among the members of the court to serve a fixed three-year term.
Court of Appeals judges are required to be qualified electors of Minnesota and must have had a license to practice law in the state for at least five years. Court of Appeals judges may not hold their offices beyond the age of 70.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has a clerk with a combined staff of approximately seven persons. These persons are responsible for receiving pleadings, issuing orders, announcing cases, managing dockets, and organizing case files. The court also employs staff attorneys who have practiced law and have acquired specific expertise in certain areas of appellate law. Among a few other duties, staff attorneys write predisposition memorandums (PDMs).
The Court of Appeals also employs three Motions and Jurisdiction Counsels. The counsels review and rule on several routine motions, present more complex motions to judges for resolution, and screen cases to ensure that the court has jurisdiction. The counsel may also issue orders directing the parties involved in a case to address potential jurisdictional issues.
Persons representing themselves may file the notice of appeal, or any other document, by personal delivery to the clerk’s office. Attorneys must file all documents electronically via E-MACS, the appellate courts’ electronic filing system. Self-represented persons may also file on E-MACS. Note that parties can no longer send documents to the court once an appeal is filed online via personal delivery.
After a notice of appeal, the case goes through a few preliminary stages. A Motions and Jurisdiction Counsel screens the new case for potential jurisdictional issues. Where parties file motions, the counsel also reviews and processes the motions for resolution.
The Court of Appeals also has a motions division that is responsible for dispositive motions. The division consists of three judges with members rotated monthly. After filing, the law clerks screen the briefs to ensure compliance with the Court of Appeals’ formatting rules. Screening duties are rotated among the law clerks every month.
Upon full briefing of a case, the clerk’s office circulates at-issue sheets to all judges. The sheets contain the following:
- Case number
- Names of the parties involved
- Participating trial court judges
- The court, agency, or tribunal where the appeal is from
The judges are required to review the sheets to determine if recusal is necessary.
All divisions of the Minnesota Court of Appeals function independently of each other, similarly to how federal circuits operate in the federal judiciary system. However, the Minnesota Court of Appeals is not authorized to sit en banc. Each division of the court decides cases brought before it in light of its interpretation of binding and persuasive authority. That is, each division may consider the law differently and issue varying decisions. The divergence between division decisions is one reason the Minnesota Supreme Court may grant certiorari.
Attorneys to the parties involved in a case may request oral argument. Oral arguments are routinely granted, but may sometimes be denied. Conversely, a Court of Appeals division may order an oral argument even when there has been no request for one.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals streams oral arguments live. Live and audio archives for oral arguments may be accessed on the oral argument recording page of the Minnesota judicial website. The schedule for previous and upcoming oral arguments are available on the oral argument page. Case announcements are also public online.
There is only one geographical division of the Court of Appeals. The court is located in St. Paul but may sit in any county seat to hear cases. The court’s judges sit in three-member panels to decide on cases. The Chief Judge assigns judges to the divisions of the court and rotates their assignments. Other responsibilities of the Chief Judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals include:
- Developing court policies
- Working on budget issues
- Supervising facilities and all court staff
- Reviewing cases and writing opinions. The Chief Judge may substitute for a recused judge and sit on panels with senior judges.
In some instances, appealed cases may skip the Court of Appeals and be channeled directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Such cases may include first-degree murder convictions and some appeals involving interlocutory relief and initiative processes.
Court of Appeals panels hear oral arguments in locations all through Minnesota between April to November to ensure access to the court throughout the state. Traveling to hear appeals keeps the court connected to people and communities, and also reduces travel costs for parties.
The judges on a traveling panel also schedule educational events with local school groups or civic organizations.
The Court of Appeals has two courtrooms located at: