All decisions and opinions of the Massachusetts Appeals Court are issued in writing. Generally, they will state whether or not the trial court’s judgment will be upheld and explain the reasons why. This is a guide to understanding how, where, and when the Appeals Court Justices deliver their rulings.
How and When Appeals Court Decisions Issue
The Massachusetts Appeals Court decides all appeals before it by issuing a written decision. Generally, the court's decision will state whether or not the trial court judgment will be upheld and explain the reasons why. A decision by the court will issue after oral argument is held, or after a case is given to a panel of judges for consideration “on the briefs,” that is, without oral argument. While there is no time period set by law or the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure, a decision generally issues within 130 days.
When the decision issues, all parties to the appeal will receive a notice informing them that a decision has been rendered with instructions on how to receive the full text of the decision from the Office of Reporter of Decisions. The date of this notice starts the clock, so to speak, for filing any application for review of the decision.
Decisions are issued in two forms: as full opinions, which are published in the volumes of the court reporter and as “unpublished” decisions that are also referred to as 1:28s, after the Massachusetts Appeals Court Rule that describes them. These unpublished decisions are noted in the court reporter but the full text is not “published” there. Even though they are not published, they are legitimate decisions of the court.
Whether a decision is issued as a full opinion or a 1:28 does not affect a party’s right to file a petition for rehearing or seek further appellate review if they contest the decision.
Appeals Court full opinions and 1:28 decisions are available online at no charge through the Reporter’s Office, with some exceptions.
Issuance or Stay of the Rescript and Entry of Judgment in the Lower Court
The appellate court’s decision is also known as the rescript. "Rescript" is the term used for the appellate court's order directing the lower court's further conduct of the case. When the appellate court issues a rescript, the appellate court is ordering a lower court to enter the judgment on which the appellate court has decided. See Mass. R. App. P. 1(c) and Mass. R. App. P. 28.
The rescript is first released to the parties and the public on the day that it is entered in the appellate court's docket. In most instances and barring a stay, the rescript then issues to the lower court twenty-eight days after the rescript was released to the parties and the public. When the rescript is issued to the trial court, and the trial court enters the judgment ordered by the rescript, the appellate court's decision takes practical effect. See Mass. R. App. P. 23 and Mass. R. App. P. 28.
The issuance of the rescript to the trial court is automatically stayed when a party to the appeal files a timely petition for rehearing or a timely application for further appellate review. In those cases, the rescript will not issue to the trial court until the petition or application is decided. See Mass. R. App. P. 23. A petition for rehearing must be filed with the clerk of the appellate court within fourteen days of the rescript being released to the parties and the public. See Mass. R. App. P. 27(a). An application for further appellate review must be filed with the clerk of the Appeals Court and the clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court within twenty-days of the release of the rescript to the parties and the public. See Mass. R. App. P. 27.1. If the petition or application is denied, the rescript issues to the trial court immediately. See Mass. R. App. P. 23.