Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

The 8th Circuit is a federal - level court of appeals based in St. Louis, Missouri. It is comprised of the districts in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas. There are 11 judges assigned to the court.

The 8th Circuit is a regional federal appeals court that is beneath the U.S. Supreme Court in the judicial branch of government. In addition to the 12 regional appellate courts to which it belongs there is one Federal Circuit Court of Appeals that hears certain cases involving trade, patents, and similar issues. As they derive their authority from the Constitution, federal judges are designated Title III; they are named by the President, their appointments ratified by Congress and judges may sit on the court for life. Magistrate judges assist the circuit judges but their terms may vary.

In federal appeals courts, judges hear cases and render decisions as the jury system is not used.

At the federal level the circuit or appellate courts have jurisdiction over the 94 U.S. District Courts that are within their regions. In the 8th Circuit the federal district court jurisdictions include two districts each in Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas, and one district each in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Prior to 1929 the court’s districts had also included Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma, but the area was divided into the 8th and 10th Circuits as the population grew.

A bankruptcy appellate panel of three judges also sits within the 8th Circuit, hearing appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. Five of the 12 U.S. circuit courts have a bankruptcy appeals court.

Eighth Circuit Court Process

Cases heard in federal district court are both civil and criminal, whether deciding guilt or innocence on felony charges, those in which penalties exceed $75,000, or “diversity” cases involving residents from more than one state or country (such as class action lawsuits). A local “rule” requires civil litigants to attempt to resolve their dispute through mediation prior to going to trial. Litigants may also decide to waive a jury trial and have the case decided solely by a judge. If a party disagrees with a district court decision he may appeal it to the circuit court with jurisdiction.

The 8th Circuit appeals court has jurisdiction over the 10 district courts within its boundaries. Cases that are decided by one of the federal district courts and appealed to the 8th Circuit may go to the U.S. Supreme Court if the Supreme Court justices seek it out or if a party to the case successfully petitions the Supreme Court to review the circuit court’s decision.

Eighth Circuit Court Caseload

Statistics show that the Supreme Court receives a small portion of its caseload from the 8th Circuit, about seven cases. Of those the court reviewed five and overturned two, affirming three, an average number of reversals. The 8th Circuit begins each session with about 1,500 cases and nearly 3,000 more are filed each year. Of those, nearly 2,900 are terminated and each judge writes about 160 decisions per year.

Eighth Circuit Court Notable Decisions

In 2016 the 8th Circuit Court weighed in on a case that involved celebrity military figures Jesse Ventura, former Navy Seal and former Governor of Minnesota, and the estate of deceased military sniper Chris Kyle, author of the autobiographical book “American Sniper” which became a blockbuster movie. In his book, Kyle alleged that Ventura had made disparaging remarks about Navy Seals at the funeral of a fallen Seal, and that Kyle had punched him. Ventura sued for defamation and unjust enrichment, and won $1.8 million in a lower court. Kyle’s widow appealed the award, and the 8th Circuit struck down the lower court’s award of $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment, but said the defamation suit could be retried.

Allowing contamination to fester and eventually sicken consumers resulted in brief jail sentences for two owners of a large-scale egg production facility in Iowa, which was upheld by the 8th Circuit Court. The closely-watched case in 2015 was unusual for its criminal application of food safety laws, but a district court judge convicted the father and son executives for not doing enough to stop contamination of eggs shipped to consumers in 2010, resulting in 56,000 cases of salmonella. They were able to stay out of jail during the appeal phase, but the 8th Circuit panel of judges upheld the sentence for negligence.