Index to Iowa's Appellate Court Briefs

Iowa has two appellate courts:  the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.  Appellate courts review the decisions of trial courts.  Appellate court hearings do not involve witnesses, juries, new evidence, or court reporters.  Instead, appellate courts review the written records of trial courts to determine whether any significant legal errors occurred. The Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court established in 1976.  Its decisions are final unless reviewed by the Supreme Court. Since 1838, the Supreme Court has been the “court of last resort” or the highest court in the Iowa state court system.  Its opinions are binding on all other Iowa state courts.  Most of the Supreme Court’s decisions are published in the Northwestern Reporter and become precedent for subsequent cases.  Only some of the Court of Appeals’ decisions are published.

An appellate “brief” is a written document that must be filed with an appellate court to help the justices decide whether the lower court’s decision should be reversed or affirmed.  A statement of the issues presented for review, a summary of how pertinent laws affect the facts, and a statement of the relief being requested are essential elements of an appellate brief.  The appellee’s brief will argue for affirmance, while the appellant’s brief will attempt to persuade the court to reverse or vacate the lower court’s judgment.  Typically, an “appendix” is attached to a brief and includes copies of the exhibits and perhaps relevant excerpts of testimony from the trial.  Briefs are used extensively by attorneys (and self-represented litigants) as models for similar arguments in current briefs.

The Supreme Court began accepting written briefs in 1870.  Paper copies of the briefs for both appellate courts were bound and distributed to the Law Library until 2008, when the Judiciary’s digitization project began.  The Law Library has the most complete accessible collection of Iowa appellate court briefs and unpublished decisions anywhere.  Until 2008, index cards for each decision were typed and filed in a catalog so that librarians could manually keep track of which bound briefs went with each decision.  But now, after four years of tedious data entry work, more than 90,000 records have been digitized to create the only online search tool for these historical documents.  Records can be searched by the case title (the appellant’s or appellee’s name), the docket number, the reporter citation, or the date of the decision.  The index matches the volume number of the bound briefs to the decision and if the decision was unpublished, a simple link in the record connects the user to the printable PDF text of the opinion.  Copies of briefs and appendices can be obtained from Law Library staff at 515-281-5124 or 1-800-248-4483 or law@lib.state.ia.us.