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How Does the New York Appellate Division of the Supreme Court Work?

With four judicial departments, the New York Appellate Division of the Supreme Court serves as the state’s intermediate court. The court handles the following cases.

  • Civil appeals from the Supreme Court, Surrogate’s Court, Family Court, Court of Claims, and County Court
  • Criminal appeals from the Supreme Court
  • In the third and fourth judicial departments, felony criminal cases
  • Discretionary appeals from the appellate terms of the Supreme Court
  • Interlocutory appeals of right from almost all order and decisions of the lower trial courts pursuant to the New York Rule of Civil Procedure
  • Some decisions of laws and fact provided under New York’s CPLR Article 78

Typically, decisions of the New York Appellate Divisions are binding on the lower courts of that department as well as other departments, unless the Appellate Division of other departments provides otherwise. In other words, if two appellate divisions make different rulings on the same case, then lower courts must follow the rulings made by the Appellate Division of their respective departments. Sometimes, this results in two rulings governing different courts on the same issue. The Court of Appeals, whose decision is binding on all courts in the state, may offer a remedy by making a single ruling on the issue.

The First Department is seated in Manhattan and covers Manhattan and Bronx County.

The Second Judicial Department is seated in Brooklyn and spreads across Queens County, Kings County, Richmond County, Nassau County, Suffolk County, as well as Orange County, Dutchess County, Rockland County, Putnam County, and Westchester County.

Seated in Albany, the Third Department serves Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Binghamton, and Saratoga Springs.

The Fourth Department covers the rest of the state including Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse Cities. This judicial department is seated in Rochester.

The rules governing the Appellate departments are Articles 55 and 57 of the New York Civil Practice Laws and Rules. The four departments also promulgated specific sets of rules informing their practices. Each case is handled by a panel of four or five justices. The law does not provide any specific procedures mandating the court to sit en banc.

The Appellate Division departments are responsible for admitting attorneys to the state bar, unlike in other states where attorneys are admitted by the state’s highest court. Applicants are required to be interviewed by the members of the court’s Character and Fitness Committee after passing the New York State Bar exam. Generally, applicants are admitted to the department where they live. Those living out of state are admitted through the Third Department in Albany City. Once admitted to any of the Appellate Division departments, the attorneys are allowed to practice law before all non-federal courts in the state, including the New York Court of Appeals.

The Justices of the Appellate Division departments are appointed by the governor from among justices elected to serve the State Supreme Court. Typically, justice is not required to have been elected from one judicial district within a department to be chosen to serve the Appellate Division for that department.

The Justices serve at least five years or upon the completion of their 14-year (elected) terms. Note that justices are required by law to retire on reaching the constitutional age limit of 70. Beyond this age, the governor may decide to re-appoint the “constitutionally retired” justices for up to three 2-year terms.

The New York Appellate Division departments judges are governed by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct promulgated by the Chief Administrator, the New York Bar’s Code of Judicial Conduct, and the relevant rules of the respective Appellate Division departments. Practicing attorneys are guided by the state and local laws, the Rules of professional conduct, and other rules adopted by each department. Each department has a committee responsible for investigating cases of attorney misconduct. The committee may then reprimand the offending attorney or recommend suspension, censure, or disbarment to the applicable Appellate Division department.

The First and Second Department each consists of seven justices while the Third and Fourth departments each have five justices. These are constitutionally stipulated numbers provided by the New York State Constitution. However, the presiding judge of each department may request that the governor designate additional justices to match the court’s increasing caseload. Note that the requirements for appointing additional justices are the same as the normally-selected justices.

The New York Law Reporting Bureau provides official reports of Appellate Department Opinions. To view the decisions of the four departments, click on the department of choice and a list of all cases decided since 2003 will be displayed. The motions of all cases decided in the current year are also available via the portal.

It is also possible to view these opinions by visiting the applicable Appellate Division Department. Use the Court Locator featured on the New York Courts website to find the Appellate Department of interest.

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