A year or so ago, I heard a California appellate court justice advise that the court of appeal examines every case for issues that will allow the court to dispose of the case without reaching the merits. He explained the process with a metaphor, which I’ll try to convey in this post (paraphrasing throughout).
“Envision an appeal as the freeway between Fresno and Los Angeles, with Fresno being the filing of the notice of appeal and Los Angeles being a decision on the merits,” he said. “Now, think of each exit on that stretch of freeway as an opportunity for the court not to reach the merits. The court would prefer to take one of those exits rather than reach Los Angeles, there are an awful lot of exits, and it’s going to check each one as it goes by to see if the exit provides an opportunity to get off the freeway.” Hence, his nickname for issues that can prevent a decision on the merits: “freeway issues.”
Are there freeway issues lurking in your appeal? Be ready to address them! Because a smart respondent’s lawyer is going to look for them.