Frequently Asked Questions About The Appeals Court In Massachusetts

What is an appeal, and what is the Appeals Court?

An appeal allows a party to apply to a higher court for a reversal of the decision of the lower court. In Massachusetts, the Appeals Court hears appeals from all trial-level courts below. The Appeals Court will base its decision on the record from the trial court proceedings, as well as the briefs submitted by the appellant (the party who files the appeal) and the appellee (the party responding to the appeal).

What types of cases may be appealed?

Both criminal and civil cases, as well as cases from trial courts of specialized jurisdiction (such as the Probate and Family Courts) may be appealed.

How is an appellate proceeding entered in Massachusetts?

To start the appellate proceeding, a Notice of Appeal has to be filed within 30 days of the judgment with the trial court. The trial clerk prepares the record on appeal; if the appellant wishes to have transcripts, then we as appellant would need to order them within 10 days after the notice of appeal.  Once the trial clerk sends a notice to the appellate court that the record is assembled (which may take a while) and the docketing fee is paid, the appeal is docketed, and the appellant has 14 days to file a docketing statement and 40 days to file his or her main brief. The appellee has 30 days to respond, and then the appellant can file a reply brief within 14 days. Some documents are required by the Appeals Court to be filed electronically.

What rules govern appeals?

The Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure govern appeals, and they set out rules for formatting briefs and other documents, time limits, oral arguments, and the process of hearing appeals, among other things. These Rules can be found at: http://www.mass.gov/courts/case-legal-res/rules-of-court/appellate-procedure/

What is an appellate brief?

An appellate brief sets forth the arguments of each party regarding the issues being appealed. The briefs address specifically the alleged errors that occurred at the lower court, citing to legal authority on point,

Because oral arguments for appeals are short, much of the decision of the Appeals Court will rely and depend on the content of the parties’ briefs. As such, it is imperative that the briefs submitted be formatted correctly, be substantively sound, and include analysis of relevant legal authority. The Massachusetts Appeals Court provides resources about appellate briefs at: http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/appealscourt/appeals-court-help-center/guide-to-appellate-briefs.html

What are the costs of an appeal in Massachusetts? 

Aside from attorney fees, there is a filing fee (currently $300), the cost of transcription (which can be high, depending on how long the trial was), and the cost of photocopying the record.  In general, appeals on purely legal issues and procedural points are going to be cheaper to bring than sufficiency of the evidence appeals, which require spending a lot of time reviewing and understanding the trial record.

What happens during oral arguments?

The appellant argues first, with each side allowed 15 minutes to present his or her arguments (except in a criminal case where a conviction for first degree murder is being appealed, in which case the parties are allotted 20 minutes for argument). The attorneys (or parties, if pro se) who argue are not allowed to read from briefs, records, or prepared statements, and the justices of the Appeals Court frequently ask questions of the parties regarding their arguments.

What happens after oral arguments are completed?

The Court will issue its decision, and the clerk will enter the Court’s order. The Court may affirm the lower court’s decision, which would mean it stands, or it may reverse it. The Court may also modify the decision as well as remand it, meaning it sends the decision back to the lower court for further work.

What options do I have if I don’t get the result I wanted?

Because most appeals are heard by a panel of judges, there is a possibility of filing a motion for a rehearing, which must be filed within 14 days after the date of rescript and must contain the points of law or fact that the party believes the Court has overlooked.

An appellate decision may also be further appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts within 20 days. It is important to note, however, that the Supreme Judicial Court does not have to hear every appeal it receives; it may decline to hear the case for further review.

Where can I find more information?

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts maintains a Help Center Page at: http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/appealscourt/appeals-court-help-center/

If you have any questions about appeals, you may also schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form here, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.