Mar 15

But First, a Really Simple Explanation of Courts and Administrative Agencies


It’s actually more interesting than you might think. Each state has its own system with three tiers of courts: the lowest court where you start your action, the appellate level and the highest court. Factual findings are made at the lowest court level either through trials or decisions on motions. Appeals are taken from there. Higher level courts will look at the record from the lower court proceedings and the parties’ briefs. Whether in state or federal court, the higher up the ladder a case travels, the more important the decision.

Briefly, civil law suits generally start in the Supreme Court in the appropriate county. Appellate Division courts hear appeals from the supreme courts and territories are organized by numbered ‘appellate departments.’ The Court of Appeals is New York’s highest court.

In Connecticut, civil law suits generally start in the superior courts, which are organized by judicial districts. The next level in Connecticut is called (sensibly) the Appellate Court and it is located in Hartford. Connecticut’s highest court is its Supreme Court.

Federal suits are brought in the District Courts. District courts are arranged to cover certain areas of a state. For example, New York is divided into the Eastern, Western, Southern and Northern Districts. Appeals are taken to the circuit courts of appeals. These circuits are organized to hear appeals from district courts of several states. Cases from the New York, Connecticut and Vermont are heard in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals for the United States. Appeals from the circuit courts are made to the United States Supreme Court through a process called a petition for certiorari.

Administrative agencies are created by legislation. The United States Education Department is a federal agency and each state has its own education department. Agencies put legislation into action. They create regulations and resolve disputes. For example, due process proceedings are administrative proceedings that are heard by impartial hearing officers employed by your state’s education department. People who work for agencies are considered experts in their field and their decisions are given deference by the courts.

With that roadmap in mind, I hope you will enjoy our foray into the emerging law on the impact of bullying.

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