I frequently get calls from people who want to know what to do when they are not happy with the decision of the judge and want to know what happens on appeal?
In Minnesota, courts of appeal review both the facts and legal conclusions reached by the lower courts.
Generally, the standard of review applied by the Minnesota courts of appeal regarding issues of law is called “de novo”, which means that the appellate court does not need to defer to the lower court on issues of law and can look at them as if they were deciding them for the first time. The courts of appeal, however, cannot set aside findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, meaning that they have to defer to some degree to the lower court’s decision.
Furthermore, due regard must be given by the court of appeal to the unique opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses. The courts of appeal cannot “reconcile conflicting evidence” in their review of the trial court’s findings of fact. The fact “[t]hat the record might support findings other than those made by the trial court does not show that the court’s findings are defective.”
Foundationally, the appellate Court has equitable authority in family law cases to grant relief as the facts and equities require.
On appeal, the trial court’s findings of fact, whether based on documentary or oral evidence, will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and the record is reviewed in a light most favorable to the findings. Findings of Fact are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. If there is reasonable evidence to support the trial court’s findings the appellate court should not disturb them. In other words, to make a successful challenge to the district court’s findings of fact, the party challenging the findings “must show that despite viewing [the] evidence in the light most favorable to the [district] court’s findings…, the record still requires the definite and firm conviction that a mistake was made.” “That the record might support findings other than those made by the [district] court does not show that the court’s findings are defective.”
It is important to note that the record on appeal consists of all “[t]he papers filed in the trial court, the exhibits, and the transcript of the proceedings,” and is not just the transcript of the proceedings or the most recent order from the trial court.