Research guides

Pennsylvania Appellate Law and Practice

Pennsylvania Appellate Law and Practice

An appeal is a "proceeding undertaken to have a decision reconsidered by a higher authority; esp., the submission of a lower court's or agency's decision to a higher court for review and possible reversal." Appeal, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

The Pennsylvania appellate courts review over 13,000 cases each year. Not all cases that are reviewed are granted an appeal. According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, in 2019 over 3,700 cases were filed in the Commonwealth Court, more than 3,400 cases were disposed, and over 800 had majority opinions. In the Superior Court, almost 7,600 new appeals were filed, over 7,800 appeals were concluded, and over 4,700 cases were issued an opinion. In the Supreme Court, however, there were only 213 total appeals but over 1,900 Petitions for Allowance of Appeal filed and almost 200 Petitions for Review filed. Of the cases issued opinions, 123 cases were disposed of by 101 opinions.

The resources in this guide focus on appeals to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, Superior, and Supreme Courts. The sources listed are available to Jenkins' members freely online, on member databases, or in the library. Onsite Lexis and Westlaw access is noted when available. Additional resources may also be useful and library users are encouraged to search the Jenkins' catalog. Visitors to Jenkins may also want to browse the shelves around call number KFP555. Primary source materials like statutes, court rules, and caselaw should also be consulted. See the PA Law guides for how to access primary source materials.

Appellate law practitioners may also be interested in these other research guides: Pennsylvania Statutes, Pennsylvania Court Rules - State, Pennsylvania Cases - Appellate Level. A full list of research guides is available here.

Appellate Court Structure

The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania describes the Pennsylvania court system as "structured like a pyramid with the Supreme Court at the top". More information about the types of cases each court is responsible for can be found at Pacourts.us/learn. There is also a detailed, technical flow chart found on the How the Courts Operate page (see the "References" on the right).

There are three main Pennsylvania appellate courts:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dates back to 1684. It is the highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest appellate court in the United States. The Supreme Court is made up of seven justices. It has several committees and boards responsible for writing and enforcing rules for judges, attorneys, and litigants to ensure an efficient and fair judicial review. Additionally, the seven justices typically receive over 3,000 requests a year for appellate review.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court was established in 1895 and is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts. It is responsible for appeals in criminal and most civil trials from the Courts of Common Pleas, including appeals on matters involving families and children. In most cases, the Superior Court is the final arbiter of legal disputes. The Supreme Court may grant a petition to review a decision of the Superior Court, but in most cases, the ruling of the Superior Court stands. The Superior Court is made up of fifteen judges. Cases are usually heard by panels of three judges sitting in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, or Pittsburgh, but may also be heard en banc by nine judges.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court was established in 1968 and is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts. It is responsible for appeals from state agencies and from Courts of Common Pleas involving state and local governments. The Commonwealth Court is made up of nine judges. Cases are generally heard by panels of three judges in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. Cases may also be heard by a single judge or by en banc panels of seven judges.

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