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Guide Appeals Court Frequent Appellate Process Questions

Many attorneys and self-represented parties have questions about the appellate process. This page contains links to several different topics that attorneys and self-represented parties often ask the court about. Although this information is designed to provide answers to common procedural questions, it does not substitute for a careful review of all existing statutes, court rules, standing orders, and relevant case law.

When and how do I appeal an order or decision from the Trial Court?

A case is ready for appeal when an order, decree or judgment has entered as to all issues and all parties so that there is nothing left to litigate. The first step in the appeal is filing a notice of appeal in the clerk’s, register’s, or recorder’s office of the court in which your case was heard. View the Civil Appeals guide for an overview of when and where you must file your notice of appeal, which is the first step in the appeals process.

If the trial court judge has issued an order which is not a final judgment and you believe that the trial court judge has committed an error of law of an abuse or discretion, you may have the right to seek review in the single justice session, in certain instances. Click here to learn about the Appeals Court single justice session.

What is a notice of appeal?

A notice of appeal is a written statement prepared by you and filed in the trial court that has the name of your case, the trial court docket number, and states your intention to appeal the judgment. The notice of appeal should include your name and contact information, and should specify the order, decree or judgment that you are appealing. See Sample Notice of Appeal and Mass.R.A.P. 3(c).

The notice must be filed in the clerk's office of the trial court where your case was heard. See Mass.R.A.P. 4(a)

See Mass.R.A.P. 4(c) & 14(b) if you have missed the filing deadline.

The notice of appeal tells the trial court to collect your case materials (to “assemble the record”) and send what’s called the “notice of assembly” to the Appeals Court. 

How do I request transcripts of my trial hearings?

You must contact the trial court clerk's office to get the information as to how to order the trial transcript and how to pay for it. If you are indigent, you may file a motion in the trial court, supported by a current affidavit of indigency, asking to have the cost of the transcript paid by the Commonwealth.

If your case was decided just on the papers filed, for example, on a motion to dismiss, and no witnesses testified, it is not necessary to order a transcript. Whether or not you order a transcript, you are required to file a certificate in the lower court clerk's office stating that either a transcript is necessary for your appeal and you have ordered it, or that no transcript is necessary for the appeal.

See Mass.R.A.P. 9(c)(2).

What does it mean to Assemble the Record?

"Assemble the Record" refers to the trial court clerk's office's action of placing together all of the original papers, exhibits, and the transcript, if any, filed in the trial court. This process begins once you file your Notice of Appeal with the trial court. Once the record has been assembled, it is not sent to the Appeals Court. Instead, during the course of the appeal, the trial court keeps the record, and does not send any portion of the record to the Appeals Court, unless requested to do so by the Court.

The rules do not specify a deadline for the trial court to complete the assembly of the record. Because of the number of cases that the trial courts are asked to handle and assemble, and because the assembly process itself requires careful attention to detail, it may take many weeks for the assembly process to be completed. If transcripts have been ordered, the assembly process may be further delayed pending completion of the transcripts, a process that is beyond the control of the clerk's office.  

What is the Notice of Assembly of the Record?

Once the record has been assembled, the trial court will send you a “Notice of Record Assembly” and send to the Appeals Court what is referred to as the “Record Assembly.” The Record Assembly is not the full record that the trial court has placed together, but is a packet of papers that includes copies of the docket entries and the notice(s) of appeal filed. Once your case has been entered, the Appeals Court relies on the Record Assembly to enter preliminary information about the case. The Record Assembly will remain in your case file during the course of your appeal.

If your case is a civil case, you must enter your appeal within 10 days of receiving this Notice of Record Assembly. In other words, the Appeals Court must receive your entry fee within 10 days of your receipt of the Notice. Criminal cases are entered automatically by the court.

How do I “enter” or “docket” my appeal?

You must pay a fee to the Appeals Court within ten days of receiving the notice from the trial court clerk, in order to have your case entered into the court’s docket. The docket fee is $300 per appealing party. For example, if you and your spouse are both appealing, the fee is $600. The Appeals Court will accept payment in cash, check or money order, by credit card, or via eFileMA.comPlease note that if you electronically enter your appeal via eFileMA.com, the provider will charge you a separate convenience fee. Any check or money order is made payable to the "Commonwealth of Massachusetts." You may pay in person or mail your payment to:

Appeals Court Clerk's Office
John Adams Courthouse
One Pemberton Square
Suite 1200
Boston, MA 02108

If you are not able to pay the docketing fee because you are indigent you may file a Motion to Waive the docket fee along with an affidavit of indigency. If you are unsure whether or not you qualify as indigent, you may want to review the topic of indigency and take a look at the affidavit to see what the standards are. The affidavit is available online or you may come to the Clerk's Office to fill out the Motion to Waive and the affidavit.

It is very important that your payment (or your Motion to Waive with affidavit of indigency) is received in the Clerk's Office within ten days following your receipt of the record assembly notice. Failure to docket your appeal within the ten-day deadline will require the filing of a motion, with additional filing fee required, asking a single justice of the Appeals Court to permit your appeal to be docketed late.

What is the Notice of Entry?

After you docket your appeal, the Appeals Court Clerk's Office will send you a Notice of Entry with your docket number in the Appeals Court.  This number will not be the same as your trial court docket number.  You will be required to include this docket number on each document filed with the Appeals Court. Any time you call the Clerk's Office with questions about your case, you will be asked to provide this docket number.

The Notice of Entry includes additional information about how your case will proceed in the Appeals Court. Read it carefully. Also take this time to review the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure (Mass.R.A.P.) and the Appeals Court Standing Order Concerning Electronic Filing, which will govern the progress of your case in the Appeals Court. 

What is the Docketing Statement?

After a case has been entered, all appealing parties (appellants and cross-appellants) are required to file and serve a docketing statement, according to the Appeals Court Standing Order Concerning Docketing Statements for All Appeals (Civil and Criminal) (see the Civil Docketing Statement or Criminal Docketing Statement). This requirement applies to both civil and criminal cases. The requirement does not apply to incarcerated self-represented litigants and does not apply to appellees.

The docketing statement provides the court with important background information involving your case that will be useful when the appeal is entered, screened, and considered by the court. It must be filed within fourteen (14) days after the Appeals Court issues the "Notice of Entry" of the appeal.  

If you do not file the docketing statement, the court can deny any motion to enlarge time to file a brief or a motion to stay (or pause) appellate proceedings, until the docketing statement is filed.

What is a cross appeal?

When both sides of a trial court case seek to appeal a judgment, and both sides file a Notice of Appeal with the trial court, that is called a cross-appeal. Only one party will be designated the appellant. Generally, unless the parties specify otherwise, where a cross appeal is filed, the plaintiff in the court below shall be deemed the appellant for the purposes of filing briefs. The other party is referred to as the appellee/cross appellant. Both parties (the appellant and appellee/cross-appellant) are required to pay the $300 docketing fee within the ten-day deadline. 

The brief of the appellee shall contain the issues and argument involved in his appeal as well as the answer to the brief of the appellant. Also, the appellee may file a brief in reply to the response of the appellant to the issues presented by the cross appeal.

What are the Appeals Court rules about service?

Every motion, status report, brief and every other paper filed in the Appeals Court must also be served by first-class mail or by hand, unless otherwise allowed by an applicable standing order (such as such as through eFileMA.com, the e-filing system used at the Appeals Court), upon counsel for the opposing party or upon the opposing party if he or she is unrepresented. As proof of this, each filing must be accompanied by a certificate of service that specifies the date, the document filed, and the address to which it is sent. Please note that if you are filing the documents electronically through eFileMA.com, those documents may be electronically served through eFileMA.com pursuant to E-Filing Rule 7 and such service shall be considered compliant with Mass. R. App. P. 13, provided the other party or party's attorney has registered with eFileMA.com.

The certificate of service must include the date of service, manner of service, and the name and address of the person served must be filed with the Appeals Court at the time that you present any filing to the court. See Mass.R.A.P. 13, Mass.R.E.F. 7. It must be labeled with your correct case name and Appeals Court docket number.

What do I do if I was not served with a copy of a court filing?

You should first contact the opposing party to request a copy. If unsuccessful, you may file and serve a motion with the court that the other side is not complying with the rules regarding service and requesting an order for service.You may obtain copies of any filings from the Appeals Court Clerk’s Office but you will be charged for those copies (see the Appeals Court fee schedule).

How should I prepare my brief and appendix?

The official rules for filing briefs are contained in the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure, primarily in rules 11619, and 20, and the Massachusetts Rules of Electronic Filing (if the documents are filed electronically). The Appeals Court has also created a Guide to Appellate Briefs which explains the rules, and handy checklists (paper brief and e-filed brief) which summarize the rules and help you make sure you did not forget anything. Neither the guide nor the checklist are a substitute for the official rules, and the rules control in the case of an ambiguity or conflict.

How do I request additional time?

If for some reason you cannot meet the prescribed deadline in which to serve and file your brief and appendix, you may file a motion for extension of time with the Appeals Court. The motion must explain your reasons for the requested extension, provide a date certain by which the brief will be filed, and be accompanied by a certificate of service which lists the name of the document being served, the date of service, the manner of service (e.g., e-service, first class mail, in hand service), and the names and addresses of all parties being served. A copy of the motion must be served on all other parties to the appeal.

It is the policy of the Court to grant no more than one motion for enlargement of time per side, the enlargement sought not to exceed 120 days, and then only on the basis of an affidavit setting forth:

          (a) good cause to warrant the requested enlargement, and 

          (b) an explanation why the particular time period requested is reasonable. 

Further enlargements of time will ordinarily not be granted absent genuine emergency, such as a death, illness, or serious injury.  

In general, as with most motions, it can be expected that any motion to enlarge may be decided within 7 days, or sooner. If you have filed a motion to enlarge and your due date is coming up, the motion will not be expedited simply because your due date is approaching. The clerk’s office suggests that all motions to enlarge be filed at least 7 days before any impending due date.

Will my motion marked up for a hearing?

No. In general, the Appeals Court does not hold hearings on motions. Motions are decided based on the papers that have been filed, usually within a week or so of filing the motion.

What is the procedure for filing an opposition?

Any party may file a response in opposition to a motion within 7 days after service of the motion. However, motions filed under Rule 6 and other procedural motions (such as a motion to enlarge time) may be acted on by the court without waiting for an opposition. Any opposition received upon a motion that has been acted upon shall be treated as a request to reconsider, vacate, or modify the action. The Court or a single justice may shorten or extend the time for responding to any motion.

See Mass.R.A.P. 15.

My motion to enlarge time to file a brief was denied without prejudice because I did not file the docketing statement. What do I do?

First, access the docketing statement here: choose Civil Docketing Statement or Criminal Docketing Statement.

Fill it out according to the instructions, and submit the form via eFileMA.com system.

Once the court has received the docketing statement, you may re-file your motion to enlarge.

What is an appellee?

If you were the prevailing party in the trial court and are responding to the appeal, and you did not file the notice of appeal, you are designated as the appellee.

An appellee is permitted, but not required to, file a brief. If the appellee does not file a brief, you will not be permitted to argue your side if oral argument is scheduled. 

See Mass. R.A.P. 19(c).

May the appellee file a record appendix?

Only in a criminal case does an appellee have a right to file a supplemental appendix.  In civil cases appellees are not permitted to file their own appendix without permission from the court. If you think that the appellant has left out important parts of the record below that you want the appellate court to consider when deciding the appeal, you must file a Motion for Leave to File a Supplemental Appendix explaining what additional documents you wish to include. When it is being filed by the appellee, the record appendix is referred to as a supplemental appendix. You may submit this motion before you file your brief, or at the time that you file your brief and supplemental appendix.  

May the appellee file a reply to the appellant's reply brief?

No, not unless this is a cross appeal. In a cross appeal, the appellee is permitted to file a sur-reply brief within 14 days after service of the appellant's reply brief.

How does the court determine which cases should be heard at argument?

Whether to schedule oral argument or to decide the appeal just on the briefs filed is a decision that is made by the court. A party does not have a right to oral argument on appeal.

In general, an appeal is considered “ready” for the court’s review when the appellee’s brief is filed. At that time, the Court will review the appellant's and appellee's briefs in order to determine whether or not the court will hear oral argument on the case. (The reply brief is reviewed at whatever point it is submitted.)  Based on this determination, an appeal may either be scheduled for oral argument before a panel of three Appeals Court judges or it may be decided “on the briefs” by a panel without oral argument.  

When will my appeal be decided?

You may expect that your appeal in a civil case will be scheduled for argument or referred to a panel for decision on the briefs approximately six months after the appellee's brief is filed.  Criminal cases will be scheduled for argument or referred to a panel approximately five months after the appellee's brief is filed. From that point, or from the date of oral argument if one is held, the panel usually issues its decision within 130 days of receiving the case.

If I am not happy with the Appeals Court decision, can I appeal?

Technically, there is no "appeal" to a higher court from a decision made by the Appeals Court. However, you may request review of the Court's decision by filing a petition for rehearing (which will be reviewed by the same Appeals Court panel) or by filing an application for further appellate review with the Supreme Judicial Court.   

How do I file a petition for rehearing?

The petition is composed in letter form addressed to the most senior judge on the three judge panel (the first judge listed on the decision or order).  Attorneys must file the petition for rehearing via eFileMA.com, within fourteen days of the issuance of the decision.  There is no docketing fee for the filing of a petition for rehearing. If e-filed, no paper copy is required.

How do I file an application for further appellate review?

Within twenty days after the decision issues from the Appeals Court, any party to an appeal may file an application for leave to obtain further appellate review of the case by the full Supreme Judicial Court. Applications for further appellate review are governed by the provisions of Rule 27.1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure. Click here for more information about further appellate review.

Where can I get more information about appellate process?

Other Mass.gov Resources

Further information about the procedures necessary to the appellate process can be found on other Mass.gov web pages, including the Appeals Court Help Center, Electronic Filing at the Appeals Court, and the Trial Court Law Libraries pages.  

Free Legal Services

Depending upon your income and legal problem, you may be able to get free legal services.  Check out the Legal Resource Finder provided by Mass Legal Help or try calling a local lawyer referral service:

Massachusetts Bar Association: 866-627-7577

Boston Bar Association: 617-742-0625

National Lawyers Guild: 617-227-7008

Civil Appeals Clinic

You may also be able to get assistance from the Civil Appeals Clinic.  The Civil Appeals Clinic is run by the Volunteer Lawyers Project and held at the Appeals Court Clerk’s Office on Wednesdays between 12:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.  The clinic is staffed by volunteer attorneys and is limited to low-income persons who qualify for services.  At the clinic, free attorneys can explain the process for appealing a judgment or decision and answer questions about it.

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