Appellate Division – California Superior Court

Appellate Division, California Superior Court

The American court system is structured in levels – trial and appellate for review.  The individual tiers can vary in names, as well as, procedures depending of the court system – individual state or federal.  The resources available at Alameda County Law Library focus on appellate cases. Within those opinions, the researcher can trace the courts’ rulings for precedents that shape California law.  There is a less well-known level of court appellate rulings within the California court system –  not one frequently referred to within Westlaw or Lexis files – the appellate division of the California Superior Court.

Historical background

Limited civil cases (valued under $25,000) filed in California Superior Courts were formerly within the jurisdiction of the old municipal courts.  The municipal courts ceased to exist upon their unification with the Superior Courts after the passage of California Proposition 220 in 1998.  Proposition 220 created an appellate division of the Superior Court, which replaced the previously existing Appellate Department, but the retained for the new division the same jurisdictional authority.

As described in Witkin California Procedure

The unification of trial courts was proposed by Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 4 of the 1995-1996 Legislature, which authorized the unification of the municipal and superior court within a county by a vote of the municipal and superior court judges.  The measure appeared on the ballot as Proposition 220 and was approved by the voters on June 2, 1998 (2 Witkin, Cal. Proc. 5th (2008) Courts, § 166, p. 238)

In Alameda County, the judges affirmed the changes effective July 31, 1998.  Under the terms of Proposition 220, the vote to unify transferred Municipal Court functions to the Superior Court, eliminated the six former Municipal Court Districts in Alameda County, and consolidated case jurisdiction, judges and staff of the Municipal Courts with the Alameda County Superior Court.

The California Constitution, Art. VI, §11 now reads –

(a) The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction when judgment of death has been pronounced. With that exception courts of appeal have appellate jurisdiction when superior courts have original jurisdiction in causes of a type within the appellate jurisdiction of the courts of appeal on June 30, 1995, and in other causes prescribed by statute. When appellate jurisdiction in civil causes is determined by the amount in controversy, the Legislature may change the appellate jurisdiction of the courts of appeal by changing the jurisdictional amount in controversy.

(b) Except as provided in subdivision (a), the appellate division of the superior court has appellate jurisdiction in causes prescribed by statute.

(c) The Legislature may permit courts exercising appellate jurisdiction to take evidence and make findings of fact when jury trial is waived or not a matter of right.

(Sec. 11 amended June 2, 1998, by Prop. 220. Res.Ch. 36, 1996.)

Witkin goes on to say:

As part of the unification of trial courts …, the former appellate department was renamed the appellate division in 1998. The California Law Revision Commission explains the change: “The appellate division is similar to the existing appellate department, but is intended to have greater autonomy so that it can exercise a true review function in a unified superior court. … Under prior law, the appellate jurisdiction of the superior court was defined in terms of causes ‘that arise in municipal courts in their counties.’ … The proposed law would make clear that the appellate jurisdiction of the appellate division covers limited civil cases and misdemeanor and infraction cases—causes traditionally within the original jurisdiction of the municipal courts—regardless of whether the courts in a county have unified.” (28 Cal. Law Rev. Com. Reports, p. 74.)  (2 Witkin, Cal. Proc. 5th (2008) Courts, § 339, p. 430)
Appellate Jurisdiction

The appellate division has jurisdiction on appeal “in all cases in which an appeal may be taken to the superior court or the appellate division of the superior court as provided by law, except where the appeal is a retrial in the superior court.” (C.C.P. 77(e)) The powers of the appellate division are those provided by law or by the Rules of Court relating to appeals to the appellate division. (C.C.P. 77(f)); see Whittaker v. Superior Court (1968) 68 C.2d 357, 66 C.R. 710, 438 P.2d 358.) (See C.C.P. 904.2 [appeal in limited civil case is to appellate division].)

The appellate jurisdiction of the superior court is wholly statutory. Under the former wording of Vehicle Code. 40230, judicial review of a parking violation was provided by an appeal to the municipal court.  Lagos v. Oakland (1995) 41 C.A.4th Supp. 10, 12, 49 C.R.2d 203, held that, in the absence of an express statutory provision for a further appeal, there was no right to appeal the municipal court judgment to the appellate department of the superior court. (See Smith v. Los Angeles Dept. of Trans. (1997) 59 C.A.4th Supp. 7, 8, 73 C.R.2d 838.)  As part of the unification of trial courts, Veh.C. 40230 was amended in 1998 to provide for appeal to the superior court.  (2 Witkin, Cal. Proc. 5th (2008) Courts, § 341, p. 432-433)

A good resource for researching the details of the procedures of the appellate division is the Rutter Guide, Civil Appeals & Writs, Chapter 16, “Appeals to the Superior Court” (available at ACLL locations using Westlaw under Secondary Sources>California Secondary Sources>Rutter Group Publications.)

Cases Heard by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court

In a limited civil case valued under $25,000, the court hearing the appeal is the appellate division of the superior court and the lower court—called the “trial court”—is the superior court.  Here is a quick review of the types of cases are appealed to the Superior Courts of California –

  • Limited  – Limited Civil (valued under $25,000) case category is composed of general civil cases seeking monetary damages
    up to $25,000. It has more filings than any other civil case type.
  • Individual case types within this case category are as follows:
    • Auto Torts • Employment • Other Personal Injury/ Property Damage/Wrongful Death • Enforcement of Judgment
    • Unlawful Detainers • Other Tort • Judicial Review • Other Civil • Complex Litigation • Contracts • Small Claims Appeals
    • Real Property
  • Misdemeanors – crimes that can be punished by jail time up to one year, but not by time in state prison
  • Infractions – crimes that can be punished by a fine, traffic school, or some other community service
The appellate division will not consider new evidence, such as the testimony of new witnesses or new exhibits. The appellate division’s job is to review a record of what happened in the trial court and the trial court’s decision to see if certain kinds of legal errors were made:
  • Prejudicial error
  • No substantial evidence

The appellate division generally will not overturn the judgment, order, or other decision being appealed unless the record clearly shows that one of these legal
errors was made.

More information is available from the California Judicial Council site – , “Information on Appeals of Limited Civil Cases to the Appellate Division.”   Also on the site are information sheets for misdemeanors (cr131info) and infractions (cr141info_infractions.)  Judicial Council forms for use in appellate division proceedings can also be found under the Forms tab on this site.

For those who have a matter in the appellate division, CA Rules of Court Rule 8.800 et seq apply to appeals from the superior court to the appellate division.
But not appeals from the small claims court

The appeal in the superior court consists of a new hearing before a judicial officer other than the one who heard the action in the small claims division. (C.C.P. 116.770(a)  It includes the claims of all parties who were parties at the time the notice of appeal was filed and the claim of a defendant that was heard in the small claims court. (C.C.P. 116.770(d)  (2 Witkin, Cal. Proc. 5th (2008) Courts, § 316, p. 408)

Published Appellate Division opinions and rulings

Why are appellate division cases of interest to researchers? The stakes are not as high as in unlimited cases.  Researchers who follow the development of California real property law and “the new economy”  might be one group interested in appellate opinions.  Landlord-tenant appeals are heard by the court’s appellate division.

Here is an example of an interesting case heard by the appellate division level:

In April 2016,  there was a decision out of Los Angeles Superior Court discussing the eviction of tenants for short term subletting of an apartment.  The case, Chen v. Kraft, 243 CA 4th Supp 13, 243 CA4th_ supp_13_JAD16-01 involved landlord-tenant law, local ordinances, and Airbnb.  (A more complete discussion of the case can be found on CEB’s Blog LINK HERE.   In Kraft, the court found that the local ordinances made the provision in the lease that allowed for short term subletting an illegal contract, which was unenforceable by the tenant, who then couldn’t defend the eviction on contractual grounds.  Interesting but quirky.  More of these types of cases may be heard in the future.

How to access

Here is a research tip for free viewing of published appellate decisions and rulings from appellate divisions across the state.  Only those opinions that have been certified for publication by the court may be available on the California Courts’ website.  Availability is limited by date.

  • On the Judicial Councils site, under the Opinions tab, there is a drop down menu.  Select Published/Citable Opinions
  • Look in the middle of the next screen for the phrase  – “Last 100 hours.”  Next to it is an down arrow.  Click on the arrow.  A drop down menu list appears.  At the very bottom of the drop down men, you will see “Appellate Division.” Click to highlight.  A list appears of documents with icons – either PDF or Word – for viewing.
  • Slip opinions from the last 120 days are posted together on this page as public information about actions taken by the courts.



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