Court of Appeals
Chief Judge Abbi Silver, Judge Jerome T. Tao, Judge Michael P. Gibbons,
On November 4, 2014, Nevada voters approved the creation of a Court of Appeals by allowing an amendment to Article 6 of the Nevada Constitution. This unique court will hear roughly one-third of all cases submitted to the Nevada Supreme Court in a deflective model, where the Supreme Court will assign cases to a three-judge Court of Appeals. This is similar to systems used in other states, including Iowa, Idaho, and Mississippi.
Prior to this change, the Supreme Court heard all appeals, including everything from murder convictions to appeals of driver’s license revocations. For decades, the Supreme Court struggled to keep up with its caseload. This was demonstrated by the number of pending cases before the court, which prevented speedy resolution of appeals. The idea for the Court of Appeals was born out of the concern that “justice delayed is justice denied.” The truth of this old adage was painfully apparent when families had to wait for an appeal in a child custody case, or when decisions on proposed ballot initiatives were slowed by the backlog of cases. With the voter-approved Court of Appeals, parties waiting for their appeals to be heard will have their cases resolved more quickly.
Historically, the Supreme Court has had the highest number of filings of all states without an appellate court. In 2014, each Supreme Court Justice handled a caseload of roughly 354 cases per year. This means nearly one case every day had to be heard and decided by each Justice. Also, because the Supreme Court sits in panels of three or seven justices, the number of cases requiring a decision actually equates to more than three cases per justice, per day. This has been an increasingly difficult task, with some cases taking as long as 3 years to be resolved on appeal.
Appellate courts resolve cases by published opinion and unpublished order. Opinions become part of the State of Nevada’s caselaw and can be cited and relied on by lower courts, attorneys and the public. Unpublished orders apply only to the parties involved in the appeal. Prior to the approval of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court disposed of most matters with orders that are not precedent-setting, but take less time to prepare. In recent years, because of its overwhelming caseload, the Supreme Court has only been able to resolve approximately 4 percent of all its cases by opinion. Adding the Court of Appeals will reduce the caseload at the Supreme Court, thereby allowing the Supreme Court to spend more time on the cases that merit published opinions.
Appeals will continue to be filed with the Office of the Supreme Court Clerk, and will remain assigned to the Supreme Court until they are ready to be decided. The Supreme Court will then decide which matters should be assigned to the Court of Appeals. This deflective model will allow the Supreme Court to speed up the appeals process by assigning cases to the Court of Appeals, while retaining those cases that raise questions of first impression or issues of important public policy. This will result in more published opinions establishing guidance on Nevada law, improved decisions in the District Courts, and improved access to the appellate process.
Approximately 700 cases each year will be assigned to the three judges on the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court will establish the types of matters to be reviewed by the Court of Appeals. Most of the cases assigned to the Court of Appeals will be resolved by the Court of Appeals with no additional processing. The Supreme Court retains the sole discretion to accept petitions for review from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, and such review will only be granted in extraordinary cases.
In sum, the Court of Appeals will improve access to justice in Nevada by providing for faster resolution of all cases. In addition, the Court of Appeals will allow for an increase in the number of published opinions in all areas of Nevada law. These published opinions will improve decisions made by the District Courts and provide clarity for Nevada’s citizens and businesses. The Nevada Judiciary is appreciative of the trust and confidence of voters in approving the constitutional amendment.