Civil appeals and certain criminal appeals from North Carolina’s District and Superior Courts are heard by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, as well as certain direct appeals from administrative agencies like the North Carolina Industrial Commission. The Court of Appeals consists of fifteen Judges who sit in rotating panels of three throughout the year. All fifteen Judges are elected in statewide non-partisan races and serve staggered eight-year terms.
The vast majority of appeals before the Court of Appeals are decided on the briefs and record alone. For this reason, the careful construction of the record on appeal and presenting a concise, persuasive brief is often the key to maximizing your chances of success on appeal.
In some cases, however, the panel decides to entertain oral arguments. Almost all such oral arguments are held in the Court of Appeals courthouse in Raleigh, though from time to time the Court will convene at one of the State’s law schools or other venues.
On the date of the oral argument, the panel will confer and vote on all cases before it, whether orally argued or submitted on the briefs. An opinion deciding the appeal typically follows in about three months, though it may take longer. Opinions are issued at 8:30 a.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.
In addition to appeals, the Court of Appeals hears certain types of motions and petitions, including petitions for writ of supersedeas (to seek a stay of a lower court decision) and petitions for writ of certiorari (to seek review of a lower court decision that is not otherwise immediately appealable).
Unlike the federal appeals courts, the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not sit en banc. For that reason, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals generally has the last word on resolving any appeal or petition. When the panel is divided, however, any issues for which there is a dissenting opinion can be appealed as of right to the North Carolina Supreme Court. In rare instances, the Supreme Court will also grant a Petition for Discretionary Review on issues on which a Court of Appeals panel was unanimous, even where there was no dissenting opinion at all.
On the date of the oral argument, the panel will confer and vote on all cases argued before it. An opinion deciding the appeal typically follows in about six months, though it may take shorter or longer. Opinions are issued in batches approximately six times per year. The Supreme Court publishes the next “Petition List Release Date” at the top center of the webpage found at http://www.aoc.state.nc.us/www/public/sc/petitions.htm, but does not project out further than that. Historically, the Court releases opinions on the same date it releases its rulings on petitions. Every Court of Appeals opinion is made available online, for free, by The Office of the North Carolina Appellate Reporter.