Recent amendments to civil procedure in Poland (especially the one dated July 2019) have raised numerous doubts on how to interpret the Civil Procedure Code, in particular provisions on service of court documents, justifications for rulings, and appeals. Some of these ambiguities have caused lots of problems for parties and their counsel, as incorrect application of these regulations can have severe consequences and even result in losing the case on procedural grounds. Some of the doubts concerning justifications for rulings were recently clarified by the Supreme Court of Poland.
In principle, the civil procedure amendment introduced a two-tier method for appealing against court decisions. First, a party must request a justification for the decision it intends to appeal against. Then, only after receiving the ruling with a justification, can the party file the appropriate appellate instrument.
Omission of the first step results in inadmissibility of the appeal, as it is no longer possible to immediately lodge an appeal without first obtaining a justification for the ruling. This has serious practical consequences, as in many situations failure to follow this two-tier procedure may result in dismissal on purely procedural grounds, as an adverse ruling that is not appealed against becomes legally final.
A justification served by mistake does not count
The Supreme Court recently examined a situation where a court, on its own initiative, without a request of a party, mistakenly served the party a justification for a decision issued in camera (even though a justification should be served only at the request of the party). The Supreme Court adopted a decision harsh to the party, holding that the mistake by the court did not relieve the party of its duty to follow the appropriate procedure.
Pursuant to the resolution of 20 August 2021 (case no. III CZP 59/20), an interlocutory appeal (zażalenie) filed within one week after service of a copy of the decision with justification will be dismissed as inadmissible when the party failed to file a request for a justification as referred to in Art. 357 §21 of the Civil Procedure Code. Therefore, if the court serves a party with decision with a justification by mistake, without a request, the party must still request preparation of a justification for the decision, and only after receiving it file an interlocutory appeal. Otherwise, the appeal will be dismissed as inadmissible.
Fundamental grounds for a decision are not a justification
Another new feature introduced by the amendment is the fundamental grounds for a decision (Art. 357 §5). However, the fundamental grounds for a decision do not constitute a justification for the decision, but only a concise description of what the court was guided by when making a particular decision (usually a few sentences). They are indicated optionally by the court within its written decisions, even those not subject to appeal.
The court may use this institution if in its opinion it helps to improve the proceedings, e.g. if it will forestall a request for a justification of the decision and then an appeal. If this concise description allows the party to learn the basis for the court’s decision and determine that an interlocutory appeal will not be feasible, the proceedings may be shortened.
In practice, parties and their counsel often struggled with a proper determination of whether they were dealing with fundamental grounds for the decision or a justification issued without the party’s request. But most often, the court notes in the document that it constitutes “fundamental grounds for the decision,” to avoid any doubt.
Doubts were also raised whether the court’s issuance of the fundamental grounds for its decision on its own accord released the party from the obligation to file a request for a justification for the decision. In this matter, the Supreme Court adopted a resolution dated 2 July 2021 (case no. III CZP 38/20), according to which the time limit to file an interlocutory appeal against an order rejecting a statement of claim, stating the fundamental grounds for the decision, runs from the date of service of the justification issued at the request of the party within a week of service of the order. According to this resolution, even if the court states the fundamental grounds for the decision, the party must request a justification of the decision. In this case, the period for the submission of an interlocutory appeal begins to run on the date of service of the decision along with the justification.
No charge for justification of a refusal to exempt a party from costs
Another important change was the introduction of a court fee of PLN 100 for a request to prepare a written justification of a decision (Art. 25b(1) of the Act on Court Fees in Civil Cases). But in practice, doubts have arisen whether the request for justification of a decision refusing to exempt a party from court fees is also subject to that fee.
In its resolution of 16 July 2021 (case no. III CZP 49/20), the Supreme Court held that such a request is not subject to a fee. This constitutes an exception to the generally accepted rule. This is probably because an interlocutory appeal against such a decision is also not subject to a court fee (Art. 95(2)(1) of the Act on Court Fees in Civil Cases).
Agat Jóźwiak, attorney-at-law, Dispute Resolution & Arbitration practice, Wardyński & Partners