Frequently Asked Questions
Except in certain cases, the California Constitution affords no right to appeal to the Supreme Court; review by the Supreme Court is a matter of discretion. A petition for review is the first step in an appeal to the Supreme Court, and consists of a party’s request to the court to select his or her case for consideration. By contrast, a party’s brief on the merits is a separate document, usually filed after the court grants a petition for review.
Any party may file a petition for review of any Court of Appeal order or decision, as California Rules of Court, rule 8.500(a) provides. The petition for review must be served and filed within 10 days after the Court of Appeal decision becomes final, as explained in California Rules of Court, rules 8.500(e) and 8.264. Any party opposed to review may file an answer to the petition, or may ask the court to review additional issues in the case.
The Supreme Court’s function is to preside over the orderly and consistent development of California case law. Therefore, the primary ground for granting a petition in a particular case is if review is necessary to secure uniformity of decision among the appellate courts or to settle an important question of law, as stated in California Rules of Court, rule 8.500(b). (In death penalty cases, review is automatic, and slightly different procedures apply, as set forth in California Rules of Court, rules 8.600 and 8.630.)
Requirements for form, such as typeface, margins, pagination, and so forth, are the same as for a Court of Appeal brief, as described in California Rules of Court, rules 8.504 and 8.204. The allowable length—8,400 words or 30 pages—is set forth in rule 8.504(d). The petition’s covers must be white (or blue, for an answer to a petition), as provided in Rule 8.40. The petition’s contents must include the issues presented for review, an explanation of how the case presents a ground for granting review, and any arguments and authorities supporting review, as set forth in California Rules of Court, rule 8.504(b).
In addition to service on parties and counsel, as provided in California Rule of Court, rule 8.25(a), the petition for review must be served on the clerk for the Court of Appeal and the superior court clerk, under rule 8.500(f).
The filing fee is $710, as specified by Government Code sections 68926.1 and 68927. This fee is not charged for petitions in criminal matters, juvenile matters or certain other cases involving minors or conservatorship proceedings. In addition, indigent parties qualifying under Government Code section 68511.3(a)(6) may apply for a fee waiver by following the procedure described in California Rules of Court, rule 3.50 - 3.63.
Once it receives a petition for review, the court has at least 60 days in which to make its decision. It assigns the case to legal staff to draft a conference memorandum, which summarizes the case facts, outlines the issues, and makes a recommendation to the court whether the case presents sufficiently important issues for review. A decision to review is made at the court’s weekly conference—at which over 250 petitions are usually considered—if at least four justices vote to accept a particular case for review.
Copies of the order granting or denying the petition to review are mailed to all parties. Parties, and the public, may also request e-mail notification of the court’s decision on the petition.
If the Supreme Court denies the petition for review, the Court of Appeal disposition governs the case and further appeal in a California state court is precluded.
If the court grants review, the parties will be permitted to file briefs on the merits. The court may specify which issues should be briefed and argued, and may even direct the parties to address additional issues not raised by the petition to review (see Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.516).
Alternatively, the court may issue a “grant and hold” order which grants review but defers all further briefing in the case pending disposition of another case already being considered by the court (called the “lead” case). Upon filing its opinion in the lead case, the Supreme Court will subsequently either order briefing in the "held" case and retain it for issuance of an opinion, transfer the "held" case back to the Court of Appeal for further consideration in light of the opinion in the lead case, or dismiss the matter. (See Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.528.) If review is dismissed, the prior Court of Appeal decision governs the case.
Within 30 days after the court grants the petition and files its order of review, the party may file a new brief on the merits or may file the brief he or she filed in the Court of Appeal, as provided in California Rules of Court, rule 8.520. The opposing party then has 30 days to file an answer brief or the brief that party filed in the Court of Appeal.
The brief on the merits is the document submitted after review is granted in which the party explains to the Supreme Court how and why the Court of Appeal’s disposition was erroneous (or correct).
Requirements for form, such as typeface, margins, pagination, and so forth, are the same as for a brief in the Court of Appeal, as described in California Rules of Court, rules 8.520 and 8.204. The allowable length—14,000 words or 50 pages—is set forth in rule 8.520(c). The covers of the opening brief on the merits must be white (or blue, for an answer brief on the merits), as provided in rule 8.40. The contents of the brief, as set forth in California Rules of Court, rule 8.520(b), must begin by quoting the court’s order specifying the issues to be briefed, if any, or the statement of issues in the petition for review.
After a case is accepted for review, the Chief Justice assigns it to one of the justices for preparation of a “calendar memorandum,” which is then circulated among the remaining justices. After the justices conclude that they have had sufficient time to consider the matter and that it is ready to be heard, it is scheduled for oral argument. (Such scheduling typically occurs several months to a year after all briefs on the merits have been filed.) Oral argument is heard during one week in each month from September through June.
The court files its written opinion within 90 days of oral argument. The decision becomes final 30 days after filing. Up to 15 days after filing, the parties may petition for rehearing; the court may also, on its own motion, grant a rehearing or modify its decision up to an additional 60 days. On the date of filing, the opinion is posted to the Supreme Court’s Web page, and is then prepared for publication in the bound volumes of the Official California Reports.