The Appellate Division is considered the most powerful court in New York State because it is the highest court that may make decisions of law and fact. The New York Court of Appeals may decide only questions of law.
When a particular department rules on a given issue, that ruling is generally binding on all the courts below and generally in every department. The First and Second Departments have issued case law indicating that trial courts within their respective jurisdictions should follow the decisions of the other departments if the First or Second Department, respectively, have not ruled on a particular issue. If two different departments have made different rulings on the same issue, then the lower courts in each departmental area must follow the ruling made by the higher court for their particular department. This can sometimes result in the same law being applied differently in different departments. When this occurs, the highest court in the state, the Court of Appeals, can remedy the situation by hearing the case and issuing a single ruling, which is then binding on every court in the state.
New York's rules of civil procedure allow for interlocutory appeals, meaning that most trial court decisions may be appealed to the appropriate appellate department while the case is still pending in the trial court. In contrast, the federal court system prohibits interlocutory appeals in the vast majority of instances, meaning that a case must be fully concluded before any appealable issues can be raised before the appropriate federal appellate court. As a result, appellate department dockets are busy ones. Different issues in the same case may be heard on appeal time and time again before the case is even tried in the lower court.
The Second Department (seated in Brooklyn, Kings County) oversees the supreme courts of the remaining boroughs of New York City—Queens (Queens County), Brooklyn (Kings County), and Staten Island (Richmond County)—as well as the remainder of Long Island (Nassau County and Suffolk County), and the New York City suburbs in Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester Counties.
The Third Department (seated in Albany) includes an area extending from the territory of the Second Department north to New York's borders with Vermont and Quebec, and includes the cities of Albany and Binghamton. This territory extends nearly as far west as Syracuse.
Justices of the Appellate Division are chosen by the Governor from among those elected to the State Supreme Court. A justice does not have to have been elected from one of the judicial districts within a Department to be appointed to the Appellate Division for that Department. They serve until the completion of their elected terms, or reaching the constitutional age limit of 70, beyond which the governor may choose to reappoint them for up to three two-year terms.