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When an appeal creates more questions than it answers

Appealing any case can be a difficult question. When, as a litigant, you believe the trial court made an error during your trial, you may feel it is necessary to appeal that error. For a business, however, the decision is more complex. While some aspect of the lower court decision may have been incorrect, you first must determine if it is cost effective.

Is the decision crucial to your ongoing business? If so, you may have to look at the larger issue and accept the cost. You also must consider the court to which you will appeal, whether it will be the North Dakota Supreme Court or the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Eighth Circuit for federal cases. Another factor is the consequence of a unfavorable decision.

When you appeal a case, you expect to receive an answer to your "question," you hope in the affirmative, and that it will resolve your case and issue. In a recent case that went to the Eighth Circuit, that "answer" can sometimes be not only unsatisfying but can create more questions than it answers.

This case involved banking law and questions of spousal guarantees. The Eighth Circuit agreed with the lower court and affirmed the decision that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act did not apply in this instance.

The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unexpectedly, Justice Scalia died before the opinion was rendered. When the Court released its decision, it was an evenly divided Court, meaning the Eighth Circuit's ruling would stand.

The Court's non-decision decision means that courts in the Eighth Circuit, including those in North Dakota, will be bound to rule differently than courts outside the circuit. For businesses, this creates an unpleasant conundrum, and potentially a great deal of confusion if you have dealings with states outside the Eighth Circuit.

And this type of an outcome, while unexpected, is just one of the risks when you appeal a decision.

Source: scotusblog.com, "When an appeal creates more questions than it answers," Ronald Mann, October 6, 2015

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