If you believe a final decision of a trial court or State administrative agency is legally wrong, you may have a right to appeal the decision.  (There is also a right to appeal some types of orders that are not final, called interlocutory orders.). This section provides basic information on civil appeals in the Massachusetts courts.

An appeal is very different from proceedings before a trial court or administrative agency.  For an appeal:

  • You must make all your arguments in writing.
  • You cannot present witnesses.
  • You cannot present new evidence. 
  • You usually cannot make new arguments on appeal.

The appellate court will look only at the record that was before the lower court or agency.  For an appeal from an agency, the record is the administrative record prepared by the agency.  For an appeal from a trial court, the record consists of the papers that were filed with the trial court, exhibits admitted at trial, and the trial transcript. 

In almost all cases, the appellate court only considers two things:

  • whether a legal mistake was made in the trial court; and
  • whether this mistake changed the final decision (called the "judgment") in the case. 

If you disagree strongly with the judge's factual findings, that is not a valid basis for an appeal. 

An appellate court will not overturn any factual findings by a judge unless there was no evidence before the court that supported the finding or if the evidence against that finding was so overwhelming that no rational person could make that finding.  The appellate court can only reverse the trial court's decision if it finds a legal mistake in the trial court proceedings, or a clearly erroneous finding, that was so important that it changed at least part of the outcome of the case. Because of this heavy burden on the appellant to prove this type of mistake, it is quite difficult to win an appeal.