In most cases, after a trial court or an agency makes a final decision, you can ask the Supreme Court to review that decision. This is called an appeal.
You are not required to have a lawyer to appeal. But the appeal process is complex and appeals often involve difficult legal issues. You will be better off if you can hire a lawyer to help you. Even if the lawyer does not actually write your brief or represent you in court, the lawyer may give you guidance about how to do these things in your case. If you represent yourself, you must still follow all the rules that apply.
This section is designed to help you with the process of representing yourself on appeal.
In most cases, after a trial court or an agency makes a final decision, you can ask the Supreme Court to review that decision (see Vermont Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(a) at Lexis Nexis). This is called an "appeal." You must file the notice of appeal with the court or board clerk. You usually have 30 days after the decision is made to file this notice (see V.R.A.P. 4(a)(1) at Lexis Nexis). You should pay close attention to the timelines that apply in your case. If you file your notice of appeal too late, you will not be able to pursue your appeal.
The Supreme Court does not hold a new trial or consider new evidence. The Court reviews what happened in the lower court or agency and decides if an error was made. Two common errors you may claim are:
- That the first court did not follow the correct procedure, or
- That the first court did not apply the law correctly to the facts of the case.
You present your reasons or argument to the Supreme Court in writing. This is called a "brief." You may also go to a hearing and tell the Court the reasons you believe the decision was incorrect. This is called “oral argument.” The Supreme Court reads the briefs, listens to the arguments, reviews the law, and makes a decision. The Court’s decision is always made in writing. For cases involving state law, the Supreme Court’s decision is final.
Some types of cases may be brought directly to the Supreme Court without going to a trial court first. This is called “original jurisdiction” in the Supreme Court.
The Vermont Rules of Appellate Procedure (V.R.A.P.) set out the correct procedures to follow for appeals to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Current rules are available through Lexis Nexis. The Vermont Judiciary does not administer the Lexis website and does not have responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided there
If you are the party that requests review of the lower court's or agency's decision, you are the "appellant." It is your responsibility to meet any applicable deadlines for filing your appeal. There are two steps to complete at the beginning of your appeal:
- Filing and serving your notice of appeal
- Filing a docketing statement and ordering transcripts
Filing the Notice of Appeal and Serving Notice to Other Parties
- File the Notice of Appeal with the court or board that made the decision you want to appeal. You usually have 30 days from the decision date to file the appeal. (For some kinds of cases—including foreclosure judgments, small claims, and traffic court appeals—you must ask to appeal within 14 days of the decision. You should look up the rules that apply to your particular kind of case.)
- If you submit your notice of appeal using Odyssey File & Serve, please use the courtesy copy feature to include firstname.lastname@example.org. If you submit a paper filing, send a copy of the notice of appeal to:
Vermont Supreme Court
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609
- "Serving" a document means providing it to all other parties. You must send copies of the notice of appeal to all the parties in your case.
- Pay the filing fee to the trial court, either by submitting payment through Odyssey File and Serve or by submitting a check. If you cannot afford the filing fee, complete an Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs form. Submit the form with the notice of appeal.
Filing the Docketing Statement and Ordering Transcripts
You must file a docketing statement in the Supreme Court within 14 days of the date you filed the notice of appeal.
This form provides basic information to help the court process your case. It asks for a very brief summary of your argument. It is not the place to make your complete, detailed argument.
Also within 14 days from the date you filed the notice of appeal, you must order transcripts of any hearing that would allow the Supreme Court to evaluate the issues you raise in your appeal. If you do not believe that the court needs to read any transcripts from your case to consider your appeal, you can indicate on your docketing statement that no transcripts are needed.
If the opposing party in your case appeals a final ruling of a trial court or agency or board, that party is the "appellant" and you are the "appellee." As appellee, you will need to take certain steps to protect your interests. These may include filing a cross-appeal, filing a docketing statement, or notifying the other party about transcripts they should order.
Even if the other party appeals, if you want to appeal parts of the trial court's or agency's final judgment, you need to file your own notice of appeal. If the other party has already filed an appeal, yours is called a "cross-appeal." If you do not file a cross-appeal, you may not be able to ask the Supreme Court to reverse the parts of the trial court's final judgment that you want to appeal.
You must file your cross-appeal within the appeal period that applies to your case or within 14 days after the date the other party filed the first notice of appeal, whichever ends later. You should follow the above instructions for filing an appeal.
If you are satisfied with the trial court's judgment below, you do not need to file a cross-appeal.
Responding to the Docketing Statement and Transcript Order
The appellee's docketing statement is due within 14 days of the filing of appellant's docketing statement.
If the appellant has not ordered transcripts of hearings that you think are necessary, you must file and serve on the appellant a list of the additional hearings that need to be included. The appellant has 14 days to order those transcripts. If they do not, you can order them yourself at your own expense (see V.R.A.P. 10(b)(5) at Lexis Nexis).
Once all the transcripts are in and the court has the record of the proceedings below, the court will send a notice stating that the record is complete. If you are the appellant, you then have 30 days to file your brief and printed case. The appellee's brief is due 21 days after the appellant's brief.
Format and Content of the Brief
A brief is your written statement of the case and your arguments. It is your chance to tell the court what happened in the trial court or the agency. If you are an appellant, your brief is your chance to tell the court what errors you think the trial court or agency made and why the decision should be different.
If you are the appellant, your brief must contain a statement of the issues, a table of contents, a table of cases, a statement of the case, an argument, and a conclusion with the relief you want (see V.R.A.P. 28(a) at Lexis Nexis).
If you are the appellee, your brief should contain the same elements as the appellant's brief but does not need a statement of the case (see V.R.A.P. 28(b) at Lexis Nexis).
If the case began in a superior court, the record on appeal to the Supreme Court will be contained in the Appeal Volume. This is a PDF containing a table of contents and the documents filed and created in the trial court proceeding. The briefs must reference documents from the record by providing the page in the Appeal Volume where the document appears.
Format and Content of the Printed Case
A printed case is required for appeals from administrative agencies, except for appeals from the Human Services Board or Employment Security Board. A printed case is optional for other cases.
The printed case is separate from the brief. It is a collection of the parts of the record that are most necessary for the court to consider. At a minimum, it should contain:
- The docket entries from the trial court
- The judgment, order, or decision that you are appealing
- Relevant parts of the pleadings, charge, findings, or opinion (see V.R.A.P. 30(a) at Lexis Nexis).
If you are the appellee, you are not required to file a printed case. You may file a supplemental printed case if necessary to direct the court's attention to parts of the record not included in the appellant's printed case. If you file a supplemental printed case, it is due at the same time as your brief.
Absent an exception, attorneys must file all documents using the Judiciary’s electronic filing system.
If you are self-represented, you may file your brief using the Judiciary’s electronic filing system, by mailing it, by delivering it, or by emailing it to email@example.com.
You must serve (deliver) copies of the brief and printed case that you file to all parties to the appeal (see V.R.A.P. 25(b) at Lexis Nexis).
After the appellee's brief is filed, the case is ready to be put on a calendar. You will have a chance to request that your case be argued before the court.
A motion is a request you make to the court asking it to take some kind of action other than actually deciding the issues in your case. For example, if you need more time to file a brief you can file a motion with the court requesting extra time. You can file a motion after a notice of appeal has been filed. In many cases no party ever files a motion. They just follow the ordinary appeals process without any special requests.
Filing and Serving a Motion
Absent an exception, attorneys must file all documents using the Judiciary’s electronic filing system.
If you are self-represented, you may file your motion using the Judiciary’s electronic filing system, by mailing it, by delivering it, or by emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You must provide a copy of the motion to the other parties in the case.
Contents of a Motion
In your motion you must include the case title, the docket number, and your name and contact information (see V.R.A.P. 32(c) at Lexis Nexis). You should state in detail what you would like the court to do and the result you need (see V.R.A.P. 27(a) at Lexis Nexis). For example, if you want more time to file your brief, file a motion stating the reason you need more time and how much extra time you want.
Responding to a Motion
You may respond to most kinds of motions. The response must be in writing and must be filed within 14 days after the motion is served (see V.R.A.P. 27(a)(3) at Lexis Nexis).
These timelines apply to most appeals. It is your responsibility to read the rules and follow the correct procedures that apply to your case. All time periods are calendar days unless specifically designated as business days. See all rules at Lexis Nexis.
Event: Notice of appeal is filed in trial court or board
Deadline: Within 30 days of the final judgment
Rule: V.R.A.P. 4
Event: Trial court sends appeal to Supreme Court
Deadline: Within 14 days after notice of appeal is filed
Rule: V.R.A.P. 11(b)(1)
Event: Supreme Court receives notice of appeal, assigns a docket number, makes appeal volume, and sends a letter to the parties
Rule: V.R.A.P. 12(a)
Event: Appellant files docketing statement
Deadline: Within 14 days after notice of appeals is filed
Rule: V.R.A.P. 3(e)
Event: Appellant orders transcripts
Deadline: Within 14 days after notice of appeal is filed, except that in bail appeals and juvenile abuse and neglect cases, appellant orders transcripts at the same time notice of appeal is filed
Rule: V.R.A.P. 10(b)(1), 10(b)(4)
Event: Appellee may file a docketing statement
Deadline: Within 14 days after appellant’s docketing statement is filed
Rule: V.R.A.P. 3(e)
Event: Supreme Court receives notice that no transcripts are necessary or that all ordered hearings have been transcribed and sends a letter that record is complete
Rule: V.R.A.P. 12(b)
Event: Appellant files appellant’s brief and printed case
Deadline: Within 30 days after record is complete
Rule: V.R.A.P. 31(a)(1)
Event: Appellee files appellee’s brief
Deadline: Within 21 days after appellant’s brief is filed
Rule: V.R.A.P. 31(a)(2)
Event: Appellant may file a reply brief
Deadline: Within 14 days after appellee’s brief is filed
Rule: V.R.A.P. 31(a)(3)
Event: Case is ready to be scheduled; parties have a chance to request argument
Rule: V.R.A.P. 34(a)
Event: Case is placed on a calendar and heard or conferenced by the court
Deadline: Usually within 60 days of when the case is ready
Event: Court issues a decision
Deadline: For cases decided by a three-justice panel, a decision is usually issued within a few days.
For full-court cases, a decision may take several months.
Event: Party may file motion to reargue
Deadline: Within 14 days after entry of judgment
Rule: V.R.A.P. 40
In cases heard before a three-justice panel, the court usually issues a decision within two business days after the date of oral argument or, if no oral argument was requested, the date when the appeal is considered (“conferenced”) by the justices.
In full-court cases, the process can take months. Usually, the justices meet immediately after an oral argument to talk about the case. One justice is assigned to prepare a written opinion reflecting the majority's view. That justice writes a proposed opinion and circulates it to the other justices. They make comments and propose revisions. Other justices may join the majority opinion, write a dissenting opinion if they disagree, or write a concurring opinion if they agree with the outcome but use different reasoning to get there. A majority must agree on the decision of the court.
The decision is sent to the parties on the case. The opinions are filed with the clerk and published on the Supreme Court's website.
The decisions of the Supreme Court are final in Vermont and must be followed by lower courts and other officials. The only possible appeal from a Vermont Supreme Court decision is to the Supreme Court of the United States if the case involves the US Constitution or a federal statute. Since the US Supreme Court accepts only a small number of the cases that are presented to it, very few cases travel from the Vermont Supreme Court to the US Supreme Court.