Appellate Jurisdiction of United States Courts of Appeals

The U.S. courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the U.S. federal court system.  A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.  In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.

The U.S. courts of appeals were established by Congress by enacting statutes.  The U.S. Constitution gives power to Congress to establish courts inferior to the Supreme Court.  Pursuant to constitutional power, congress has enacted statutes to establish the courts of appeals.[i]

Further, Congress has enacted statutes defining the jurisdiction of courts of appeals.  Federal statute provides that the courts of appeals, other than the U.S. court of appeals for the Federal Circuit, have jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the U.S., the U.S. District Court for the District of the Canal Zone, the District Court of Guam, and the District Court of the Virgin Islands, except where a direct review may be had in the Supreme Court.[ii]  The courts of appeals also have jurisdiction over appeals of various interlocutory decisions.[iii]

The U.S. court of appeals for the Federal Circuit have exclusive jurisdiction of appeals:[iv]

  • in specified cases arising under the federal patent laws,
  • in specified cases in which the U.S. is the defendant,
  • from final decisions of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims,
  • from final decisions of the U.S. Court of International Trade,
  • over appeals of various lower court rulings under the Economic Stabilization Act, the Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act, the National Gas Policy Act, and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act,
  • to review certain administrative rulings of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the International Trade Commission, the Merits Systems Protection Board, and agency boards of contract appeals pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act, and
  • of certain interlocutory decisions, in the same manner as the regional courts of appeals, in any case over which the court would have jurisdiction of an appeal of the final decision under the jurisdictional statute for that court.

Pursuant to federal statute, appeals from reviewable decisions of the district and territorial courts are taken to the specified assigned courts of appeals.[v]  The propriety of an order entered by a district court within a particular Circuit is subject to the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for that Circuit.[vi]

Congress has provided that the courts of appeals can certify any question of law in a civil or criminal matter in which the Supreme Court’s instructions are required.[vii]  The jurisdiction of the courts of appeals is exclusively appellate.[viii]  Their authority to issue writs is only that which may properly be deemed to be auxiliary to their appellate power.[ix] Courts of appeals lack jurisdiction to hear an appeal unless the decision is final within the meaning of federal jurisdictional statute.[x]  After determining whether a court of appeal had jurisdiction in the case, the Supreme Court can review a court of appeals’ decision to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.[xi]

United States Courts of Appeals

[i] 28 USCS § 41

[ii] 28 USCS § 1291

[iii] 28 USCS § 1292

[iv] 28 USCS § 1295

[v] 28 USCS § 1294

[vi] Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co. v. Ft. Pierce, 323 F.2d 233 (5th Cir. Fla. 1963)

[vii] Woolfson v. Doyle, 180 F. Supp. 86 (D.N.Y. 1960)

[viii] Roche v. Evaporated Milk Ass’n, 319 U.S. 21 (U.S. 1943)

[ix] United States v. Mayer, 235 U.S. 55 (U.S. 1914)

[x] Swede v. Rochester Carpenters Pension Fund, 467 F.3d 216 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2006)

[xi] Metric Constructors, Inc. v. United States, 44 Fed. Cl. 513 (Fed. Cl. 1999)


Inside Appellate Jurisdiction of United States Courts of Appeals