About the 5th District Court of Appeal


The Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District’s jurisdiction encompasses nine counties located in central California: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne. The court is located at 2424 Cesar Chavez Blvd in downtown Fresno. The clerk’s office can be reached by telephone at (559) 445-5491.

The state’s intermediate appellate courts were created by a constitutional amendment adopted on November 8, 1904. At that time, there were three districts with courts in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento. A fourth appellate district was created in 1929, holding sessions in San Bernardino, San Diego and Fresno. In 1961, the Legislature created the Fifth Appellate District composed of counties taken from the Third and Fourth Appellate Districts. A sixth appellate district was created in 1984.

The Fifth Appellate District originally consisted of three justices. The number of justices serving the Fifth Appellate District has grown several times: a fourth justice was added in 1975; a fifth was added in 1979; three additional justices were added in 1981; and an additional justice was added in 1987 and again in 2000.

The Courts of Appeal are California’s intermediate courts of review. Except for direct appeals from a death penalty judgment, the Courts of Appeal have appellate jurisdiction when trial courts have original jurisdiction and in other causes prescribed by statute. An appeal is filed in the trial court and reviewed in the appellate district where the trial court is located. Appellate review is governed by statute, and final judgments and appealable orders of the trial courts may be appealed to the Courts of Appeal as a matter of right. Appellate courts provide review of trial court decisions in order to rectify erroneous results to the parties and, along with other courts, intermediary appellate courts have original jurisdiction in habeas corpus proceedings and proceedings in which extraordinary relief is requested. Filing of writ petitions in a Court of Appeal also permits review of specific, nonfinal lower court decisions, such as change of venue, and review of decisions by an administrative agency, such as the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

There are 10 Justices at the Fifth Appellate District, all of whom are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments before taking the oath of office. They subsequently stand for retention elections.

The Fifth Appellate District is not divided into divisions and normally operates with three panels, comprised of three justices each. The justices are randomly rotated among the panels each month.

The workload of the justices and staff of the court is divided into the following principal categories:

The appellate process begins with the filing of a "notice of appeal" with the trial court clerk. The trial court clerk forwards a copy of the notice of appeal to the Court of Appeal. The appellate record of proceedings (a.k.a. record on appeal) in the trial court is prepared and filed in the Court of Appeal. After the record on appeal is filed, briefs are due from the respective parties. The filing of an appellant’s opening brief is followed by the filing of the respondent’s brief, which may be followed by the filing of appellant’s reply brief. Once briefs have been filed, the case is eligible for oral argument. The court files its decision following oral argument or waiver of oral argument. Courts of Appeal in this state are required to file written decisions called "opinions" in each "cause" (i.e., appeal). The opinion must include a statement of the facts, the legal issues raised by those facts, a discussion of the law that applies to the issues raised, and the court’s reasoning in reaching its conclusions.

After the record on appeal and briefs are filed, an experienced attorney screens the case for either "regular" or "routine disposition" handling. A routine disposition case is an appeal which raises no novel questions of law, is not of wide public interest, and can be disposed of by application of settled principles of law to the facts. Draft opinions in routine disposition cases are written by a justice or by an experienced attorney assigned to the court’s central staff. All routine disposition opinions are reviewed and approved by three justices of the court.

Regular appeals are cases not screened for routine disposition treatment, but instead are assigned directly to an individual justice for authorship.

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1105 requires that all opinions of the Supreme Court be published in the Official Reports, but an opinion of a Court of Appeal is published only when it meets one of the standards described in the foregoing rule.

Parties can seek reconsideration or review of the written decision of the Court of Appeal. The court itself may grant a petition for rehearing on its own motion within permissible jurisdictional time parameters. Additionally, the Supreme Court may grant a petition for review. Review by the Supreme Court of a decision of a Court of Appeal will be ordered when: (1) necessary to secure uniformity of decision or to settle important questions of law; (2) the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction; or (3) because of disqualification or other reason, the decision of the Court of Appeal lacked the concurrence of the required majority of qualified judges. An order of the Supreme Court denying a petition for review becomes final when it is filed. If review is granted, the Supreme Court may affirm, reverse, or modify the appellate court’s decision or may decide one or more issues and transfer the cause to a Court of Appeal for decision of any remaining issues in the case.

Statistics demonstrate that most cases are not accepted for review by the California Supreme Court.

The appellate process concludes when the decision becomes final and a remittitur, along with a copy of the court’s decision, is issued to the trial court by the appellate court. A remittitur is a document which certifies the appellate court opinion is now binding on the lower court as a final ruling, i.e., the time for reconsideration or review has expired. The lower court decision may be upheld (affirmed), reversed, affirmed in part, and reversed in part (usually involving sentencing errors), or the case may be remanded with directions to the trial court.

For more detailed information on the appellate process, please visit the California Appellate Courts Self-Help Resource Center.

Unlike appeals, which can be taken only from certain types of decisions designated by statute or case law, writ petitions can theoretically be taken from any order or decision. These petitions are assigned immediately to legal staff and requests for emergency relief are given prompt attention.

The term "writs" is used to include all of the traditional writs (mandamus, prohibition, certiorari, supersedeas, habeas corpus, and coram vobis) and also writs of review (petitions in Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Public Employment Relations Board, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and Public Utilities Commission matters).

Writ petitions are not considered within the definition of "causes," and the constitutional mandate requiring a written opinion does not apply to summary denials. A petition may be denied without further briefing or oral argument. The court has two writ panels of three justices each, the membership of which is rotated among all the justices from month to month. Writ conferences are held on a weekly basis. If the court decides that a petition may have merit, an order to show cause is issued and the writ is treated much like a regular appeal. A remittitur is not issued when an original petition is summarily denied, and the order is final upon filing. A remittitur is issued in any original proceeding in which an alternative writ or order to show cause has been issued, addressed to a lower court or board, or when the court decides on its merits the validity of a decision of a lower court or board, without issuance of an order to show cause or alternative writ.

Non-routine motions, including bail motions and motions to dismiss the appeal, are processed in accordance with the procedure for handling writs. Routine matters, including requests for extension of time to file a brief, are normally disposed of by order of the presiding justice with the assistance of a writ-and-motion attorney.

These are assigned for disposition to the same panel members who participated in the initial opinion.

Upon stipulation of all parties to a civil case pending in the court or on the court’s own motion, a justice of the court will preside over a settlement conference. Where complete settlement cannot be reached, partial settlement will be sought. Any justice who participates in a settlement conference will be ineligible to participate in the consideration or disposition of the appeal on its merits.