Several presumptions govern civil appeals in California, making reversal a steep challenge absent clear and prejudicial error.
- Most fundamentally: Appealed judgments and orders are presumed to be correct, leaving the appellant with the burden of demonstrating error on an adequate record.
- When there is no transcript of the relevant proceedings, the appellate court will presume the evidence in the omitted transcript supports the judgment.
- When the appellate record does not reveal which party requested an erroneous jury instruction, the court will presume that the appellant did so, foreclosing any challenge to that instruction.
- With certain exceptions, a general verdict on multiple claims results in apresumption that the jury found against the appellant on all claims. So even clear error infecting one claim will not bring reversal, where the judgment can be affirmed based on another.
These and other presumptions are a major reason that appeal differs drastically from trial-court litigation, and why appellate success requiresboth a powerful record and brand-new strategy. If the record is not clear or compelling enough, even strong briefing rarely saves the day. And where the record is strong and complete, the presumption that the judgment is correct still demands appellate arguments that do not arise in the trial court.
- The practical message: Litigants should understand which presumptions apply to a trial-court record before launching or defending an appeal, and plan how to either mitigate or take advantage of them.