Structure of New York State’s Appellate Courts

The mid-level represents the “intermediate” appellate courts; and the base represents the “trial” courts in each County.

The “trial” courts in each County include the Supreme Court, County Court, Surrogates Court, Family Court, District Court, Village Court, City Court and Municipal Court.

The intermediate appellate courts include the four Judicial Departments of the Appellate Division, the Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court, and the County Courts acting as Appellate Courts in the Third and Fourth Judicial Departments.

The Appellate Division has the jurisdiction to make its own factual findings, as well as deciding issues of law. Thus, for example, it can set aside a verdict which it concludes was “against the weight of the evidence.” Or, if it was a “bench trial” (where the judge was the fact-finder), the Appellate Division may reject the factual findings of the judge. The State is divided into four Judicial Departments based, in part, upon population density. The First Department, located in Manhattan, has jurisdiction to review cases decided in New York County and in the Bronx. The Second Department, located in Brooklyn, reviews cases in the following ten Counties: Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester. There are some 28 Counties in the Third Department, which sits in Albany; and there are some 22 Counties in the Fourth Department, whose Courthouse is in Syracuse.

The function of the Court of Appeals in Albany is to clarify the law of the State of New York, just as the role of the U.S. Supreme Court is to clarify the federal law for the United States. The Court of Appeals reviews a very limited number of cases each year, deciding just 211 cases in 2013. It may accept a case for review if, for instance, there is a conflict among the “intermediate” appellate courts as to what the law is on a particular issue, or how the law should be applied. Or, a case may be reviewed because it involves the interpretation of the State or Federal Constitution, or a New York statute; or if it implicates an important public policy. The Court of Appeals decides only issues of law, and does not make its own determinations of fact. If, however, an intermediate appellate court has reversed a trial court’s determination, and made new findings of fact, the Court of Appeals may determine, “as a matter of law,” whether the Appellate Division’s new factual findings have support in the record.