You may appeal a decision of a state agency by filing a complaint for judicial review, but only after first exhausting the review process offered within the agency itself.
Many, but not all, complaints for judicial review are heard in the Superior Court. The following information outlines appeals in Superior Court. To be sure, check with the agency involved to learn whether this or a different procedure is the one to follow.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Appeals from Administrative Agency Decisions under General Laws ch.30A
- Administrative Appeals: Transcripts FAQ
- 30A Administrative Appeals Checklist
- 30A Administrative Appeals Flowchart
Frequently Asked Questions about Appeals from Administrative Agency Decisions under General Laws ch.30A
1. What is a 30A appeal?
An appeal from an administrative agency decision, also referred to as a “30A appeal,” or a request for “judicial review of an administrative agency decision,” is what you file in the Superior Court when you want a judge to review a final decision made by a state agency. The decisions that a judge can review under 30A must have been made by a state agency in an “adjudicatory proceeding.”
As described in the statute G.L. c. 30A, § 14 , the review is conducted by the judge, without a jury, and is limited to the facts that were on the record during the administrative hearing. Typically, the judge does not hear testimony or consider new evidence, and reviews only what happened at the administrative hearing by looking at the administrative record. If you request a transcript of the hearing, the judge can review the transcript as well.
2. Which agency decisions can be appealed under 30A?
The type of agency decisions that can be reviewed by the Superior Court is generally established by the statute or regulation governing a specific case. For example, the Superior Court has authority to review decisions from the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Board of Appeal of Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), and the MassHealth Board of Hearings.
- An appeal from a decision of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) can be filed in the Superior Court or Housing Court.
- The Superior Court does not have authority to review a decision of the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). These appeals must be filed in the District Court.
- Since municipalities, local bodies, and commissions are not “agencies” within the meaning of G.L. c. 30A, the 30A appeal process does not apply. There may be other ways to seek review of a decision by these authorities. The Trial Court Law Libraries have information about the laws that govern different appeals processes.
3. How difficult is it to appeal an administrative agency decision?
Proceedings for judicial review of an agency decision are filed in the Superior Court. If you decide to file an administrative agency appeal, please remember that you must follow many procedural requirements. For example, in addition to filing and serving a complaint to start the lawsuit, you will have the burden of writing, serving, and filing a motion and written memorandum explaining why the agency decision should be modified or reversed. In addition, depending on the reason for your appeal, you may be required to request and pay for a transcript of the administrative agency hearing. See Superior Court Standing Order 1-96 for more information about transcripts and other requirements. If you make a procedural mistake, the judge may not have an opportunity to hear the merits of your case. For example, if either party fails to meet certain filing deadlines, the case may end without a hearing.
4. How do I file an appeal from an administrative agency decision?
In order to begin your appeal, you will need to file a Complaint for Judicial Review of Administrative Decision and a Civil Action Cover Sheet file size 1MB in the Superior Court Clerk's Office, and also pay a filing fee. You may either deliver the documents and filing fee in person or send them by certified or registered mail. Either way, the clerk must receive the documents by the deadline required to file the appeal.
5. What is the deadline for filing my appeal in the Superior Court?
The appeal must be filed in the Superior Court within 30 days from the date you receive notice of the agency's final decision. It is very important that the clerk receive the appeal by the deadline. Note that even if you mail your appeal before the deadline, the court will dismiss your appeal if the clerk’s office does not actually receive your complaint before the deadline.
6. What does filing mean?
Filing is when the original documents are delivered to the Clerk’s office. After you file and serve your complaint, you must make sure that every filing has a proper heading and a certificate of service. You may wish to make a copy of the original papers for yourself.
7. Where should I file my appeal?
An appeal of a state agency decision may be filed in the Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, the Superior Court in the county where you (the plaintiff) or any other plaintiffs in the same case live, or in the Superior Court in the county where the agency has its main office.
8. How do I fill out the required papers?
Complaint for Judicial Review
Your complaint identifies the decision you are appealing and the ground for your appeal. You will need to type or very neatly hand-write your complaint, and base your complaint on the facts and circumstances in your own case. Looking at a sample complaint will help. Several samples are available at a Trial Court Law Library or Court Service Center.
The possible grounds for an appeal under G.L. c. 30A, § 14(7) are that the agency’s decision was:
- In violation of constitutional provisions; or
- In excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the agency; or
- Based upon an error of law; or
- Made upon unlawful procedure; or
- Unsupported by substantial evidence; or
- Unwarranted by facts found by the court on the record as submitted or as amplified under paragraph (6) of this section, in those instances where the court is constitutionally required to make independent findings of fact; or
- Arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.
In most cases, and as required by G.L. c. 30A, § 14 , the judge will decide a case based only on the evidence presented at the administrative agency hearing. Additional testimony and new evidence will be considered only if the court decides it is appropriate under G.L. c. 30A, § 14 (5) or (6).
Civil Action Cover Sheet
The online form is fillable. After typing in the information, print out a copy of the form to give or mail to the Superior Court Clerk’s Office. You can also print the blank form, or get a blank form from a Trial Court Law Library, Court Service Center, or Superior Court Clerk’s Office, then very neatly hand-write the information.
- Fill in the County in which you are filing your complaint.
- You will receive the docket number when you file your complaint, so leave that blank for now.
- Fill in the information about the parties: the plaintiff (you) and the defendant (agency).
- If you are proceeding without a lawyer, leave the boxes asking for “Attorney” information blank.
- Complete the section - “Type of Action and Track Designation.” The “Code No.” for this type of case is “E02”; the “Type of Action” is an “Appeal from Administrative Agency, G.L. 30A,” and the “Track” is “X”. Since a jury claim cannot be made in this type of case, select “No” under “Has a jury claim been made?”
- The “Statement of Damages” section can be left blank.
- Identify any related cases in the space provided.
- Sign and date the form.
9. What is a summons? How do I fill one out?
Once you file your complaint with the court, you must “serve” or deliver a copy of the complaint and a “summons” to the other party in the manner required by the rules. A summons is a form that you purchase from the Superior Court Clerk’s Office. It orders a party to appear and defend your complaint. You will need to purchase one summons for each party that you serve.
Summons. Complete the caption. The caption lists the plaintiff (you) and the defendant or defendants. The defendant should be the agency that issued the final decision. If some other person or entity was a party in the proceeding, that person or entity may also need to be a defendant. Remember to put the docket number that the Clerk gives you on the summons. Address one summons to each defendant in your case, and fill in your contact information. Make a copy of each summons. You will serve the copy of the summons to each defendant, and keep the original for filing with the Court.
10. What does service mean, and how do I serve someone?
Service means delivering a copy of the documents that you filed in Superior Court, and the summons that you will get when you file your papers in Superior Court, to every defendant in your case.
You need to serve the agency and the Boston office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, and any other defendant. If you are not sure who else was a party in the agency proceeding, ask the agency for a list.
You have 90 days from the date you filed your complaint to file the proof of service with the court.
Service on the Attorney General of the Commonwealth or any agency can be made by mailing a copy of the documents by certified or registered mail. To serve individual parties and corporations, you must follow the rules of civil procedure. For more information, see Rule 4 of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure. Keep the original summonses and the receipts you get from the Post Office. When the green cards (return receipts) come back to you, attach them to the original summonses, and file those with the Superior Court Clerk's Office.
11. What happens after I file my complaint for judicial review with the Superior Court and serve the parties?
Depending on the reason for your appeal, you may need to request and pay for a copy of the transcript from the agency within 30 days after serving the complaint. For example, you are required to file a transcript in your case if you are claiming that the facts the agency found are not supported by substantial evidence. For more information see Administrative Appeal: Transcripts FAQ.
The agency is responsible for filing the Administrative Record as an answer to your complaint. The Administrative Record consists of the pleadings filed by the parties in the agency proceeding, evidence relied upon by the agency in making its decision, the agency’s final decision, and a transcript if you have requested one. The agency must file its Administrative Record within 90 days from the day it receives your complaint.
Superior Court Standing Order 1-96 permits you and the agency to file certain motions raising preliminary matters no later than 20 days after the agency file its answer. Read the Standing Order and related rules to see if these motions apply to you.
The next step is for you to file a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” under Rule 12(c) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure. Unless parties have filed motions raising preliminary matters, you must serve this motion on the agency within 30 days after you receive the agency’s answer. Type (or very neatly hand-write) your Rule12(c) motion, as well as a memorandum explaining why you think the motion should be granted. Looking at a sample motion will help. Samples are available at your local Trial Court Law Library or Court Service Center.
The way you file and serve your Rule 12(c) motion is different from the way you filed and served your complaint. You must follow Superior Court Rule 9A. After you serve or send the agency your motion, the agency has 30 days to send you its response. Since you are filing the motion, you are responsible under Superior Court Rule 9A for putting together a “9A package,” and filing it with the court. The 9A package includes your motion, the agency’s response (or your affidavit that says you did not receive a response), and a list of all the papers in the package. You must file the package with the Superior Court Clerk's Office, and send the agency a written notice that you have filed the package with the court.
You must also file a “Certificate of Notice of Filing” with the court. This is simply a note to the court that says (under the penalty of perjury) that you sent the agency written notice that you have filed the 9A Package with the Court.
The court will schedule a hearing on the motion after it receives your 9A package. At the hearing you will be able to tell the judge in person why you think the agency decision was wrong.
For more information on the procedures and filing deadlines of administrative appeals filed in the Superior Court, see Superior Court Standing Order 1-96 – “Processing and Hearing of Complaints for Judicial Review of Administrative Agency Proceedings.”
12. What will the court decide and when will I hear about it?
The court may affirm the decision of the agency, or remand the matter for further proceedings before the agency; or the court may set aside or modify the decision, or compel any action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed. The court will usually make a decision within a few weeks. The court will mail the decision to you.
13. How much does it cost to file an appeal from an administrative decision?
The charge for filing the complaint in the Superior Court is $275.00 (including security fee and surcharge), and the cost for a blank summons is $5.00. In addition, you may be required to request and pay for a transcript of the administrative agency hearing testimony if you are claiming that the facts the agency found are not supported by substantial evidence If you request a copy of the transcript of the administrative hearing from the agency, it will be your responsibility to pay for it. If you order an additional transcript for yourself, you will be charged for two copies. If you cannot pay court fees or costs, you may be able to have the state pay for them. If you are eligible, fill out an Affidavit of Indigency (and Supplement, if the instructions tell you to do so). In Sections 2 and 3, mark the boxes for the fees and costs you need, such as “Filing fee and any surcharge,” and “Cost of preparing written transcript.”
14. Where can I find a copy of the statutes, rules, and regulations that I need to follow to file this appeal?
Massachusetts General Laws, c. 30A, sec. 14 - Judicial Review
Superior Court Standing Order 1-96 - Proceedings and Hearings of Complaints for Judicial Review of Administrative Agency Proceedings
Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(c) - Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
Superior Court Rule 9A - Civil Motions
801 CMR 1.00 et seq. - Standard Adjudicatory Rules of Practice & Procedure
15. How do I get a lawyer?
Most legal aid offices do not assist with filing administrative appeals. However, you may want to contact your local legal aid office to see if you are eligible for its services in this instance. You can also contact your local Bar Association for a referral. It may be able to refer you to a pro bono or free attorney, but most likely it will be able to refer you to an attorney whose services you must pay for. If you are low-income, you may want to ask about attorneys that charge reduced rates or charge on a sliding scale. Go to the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder for more information on these services.