District Courts of Appeal
The purpose of Florida’s District Courts of Appeal is to provide the opportunity for thoughtful review of decisions of lower tribunals by multi-judge panels. District Courts of Appeal correct harmful errors and ensure that decisions are consistent with our rights and liberties. This process contributes to the development, clarity, and consistency of the law.
In ongoing efforts to continually improve the judicial process, the Florida Supreme Court recommended in November 2021 the addition of a sixth district court of appeal. The recommendation was based on work conducted by District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction Assessment Committee, formed by then-Chief Justice Charles Canady. The Committee noted the addition of a sixth district court of appeal would also boost citizen trust and confidence in the judiciary.
Subsequently, the Legislature proposed bill HB 7027, based on the Committee’s recommendation, which was then signed into law by Governor DeSantis in June 2022, creating the Sixth District Court of Appeal, the first new appellate court since the 1979 creation of the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
The law also realigns four judicial circuits into different, already existing districts. The Sixth District Court of Appeal will be composed of the Ninth, Tenth, and Twentieth Judicial Circuits and will be headquartered in Lakeland. The Second District Court of Appeal will be headquartered in Pinellas County when a new courthouse is complete in St. Petersburg. Until then, it will operate from Tampa.
As of January 1, 2023, there are six operating District Courts of Appeal in Florida, located in Tallahassee, Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach, and Lakeland, respectively.
As a general rule, decisions of the district courts of appeal represent the final appellate review of litigated cases.
Current District Courts of Appeal
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- First District Court of Appeal - (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, and 14th Circuits)
- Second District Court of Appeal - (6th, 12th, and 13th Circuits)
- Third District Court of Appeal - (11th and 16th Circuits)
- Fourth District Court of Appeal - (15th, 17th and 19th Circuits)
- Fifth District Court of Appeal - (4th, 5th, 7th, and 18th Circuits)
- Sixth District Court of Appeal - (9th, 10th, and 20th Circuits)
The bulk of trial court decisions that are appealed are never heard by the Supreme Court. Rather, they are reviewed by three-judge panels of the district courts of appeal. Florida did not have district courts of appeal until 1957.
Until that time, all appeals were heard solely by the Supreme Court. As Florida grew rapidly in population during the twentieth century, however, the Supreme Court's docket became badly congested. Justice Elwyn Thomas with help from other members of the Court perceived the problem and successfully lobbied for the creation of the district court system to provide intermediate appellate courts.
The Constitution now provides that the Legislature shall divide the State into appellate court districts and that there shall be a district court of appeal (DCA) serving each district. There are six such districts that are headquartered in Tallahassee, Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach, and Lakeland.
DCA judges must meet the same eligibility requirements for appointment to office, and are subject to the same procedures and conditions for discipline and removal from office, as Justices of the Supreme Court. Like Supreme Court Justices, district court judges also serve terms of six years and are eligible for successive terms under a merit retention vote of the electors in their districts.
In each district court, a chief judge, who is selected by the district court judges within the district, is responsible for the administrative duties of the court.
The fundamental reasons for appeals from trial courts are to correct harmful errors by having review by a multi-judge panel of experienced judges and to promote clarity and consistency in the law by publishing opinions that set forth the relevant facts of the case and the proper application of the law to those facts.
The district courts of appeal can hear appeals from final judgments in circuit court cases and in most county court cases and can review certain non-final orders.
By general law, the district courts have been granted the power to review final actions taken by state agencies in carrying out the duties of the executive branch of government.
Finally, the district courts have been granted constitutional authority to issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, as well as all other writs necessary to the complete exercise of their jurisdiction.
As a general rule, decisions of the district courts of appeal represent the final appellate review of litigated cases. A person who is displeased with a district court's express decision may ask for review in the Florida Supreme Court and then in the United States Supreme Court, but neither tribunal is required to accept the case for further review. Most are denied.
Judicial Family Institute (JFI)
The Judicial Family Institute is a subcommittee of the Conference of Chief Justices. It also works with the National Center for State Courts and is dedicated to providing information, support and education to judicial family members.