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Guide Requirements for starting an appeal in each Trial Court department

Most appeals from a trial court's decision are started by filing a "notice of appeal" with the trial court and serving a copy of the notice on the other parties. The deadline for filing a notice of appeal varies depending on the type of case you are appealing. What court your appeal will go to also varies depending on the type of case. This guide provides information on where and when to file the notice in each court department.

Table of Contents

The right to an appeal

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.). 

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.

Stages of an appeal

An appeal from a trial court's decision generally has six stages:

  1. Giving notice to the court and the other parties that you intend to appeal, by filing and serving a notice of appeal.
  2. Preparation of the record by the trial court including transcription of the testimony, if any.
  3. Entering the appeal at the appellate court.
  4. Briefing and preparation of the record appendix.
  5. Oral argument or submission to a panel for consideration.
  6. Decision by the appellate court.

Appealing civil cases from the Boston Municipal Court

Within 10 days of the entry of the judgment or final order on the docket of the Boston Municipal Court.

File a notice of appeal in the Municipal Court's Clerk's Office within 10 days of the entry of the judgment or final order on the docket of the Boston Municipal Court.

For almost all cases, the appeal is to the Appellate Division of the Boston Municipal Court, where you must follow the Appellate Division's Rules of Procedure .  

Decisions on unemployment appeals and zoning cases are appealed to the Appeals Court, and are commenced by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days of entry of the decision on the docket.  

Additional Resources for Appealing civil cases from the Boston Municipal Court

Appealing civil cases from the District Court

Within 10 days of the entry of the judgment or final order on the docket of the District Court.

File a notice of appeal in the District Court's Clerk's Office within 10 days of the entry of the judgment or final order on the docket of the District Court.

For almost all cases, the appeal is to the Appellate Division of the District Court, where you must follow the Appellate Division's Rules of Procedure. Detailed information is available in Appeal a District Court civil case to the Appellate Division (see Additional Resources below)

Decisions on unemployment appeals and zoning cases are appealed to the Appeals Court, and are commenced by filing a notice of appeal within thirty days of entry of the decision on the docket.  For appeals to the Appeals Court, you must comply with the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure

Additional Resources for Appealing civil cases from the District Court

Appealing final decisions of the Appellate Division of the BMC or District Court

30 days after notice of decision

You must file your notice of appeal of the Appellate Division decision with the clerk of the originating District Court, not with the clerk of the Appellate Division. File within 30 days after notice of the decision.

 

Additional Resources for Appealing final decisions of the Appellate Division of the BMC or District Court

Appealing cases from Housing Court

For eviction cases, you must file a notice of appeal within 10 days of the entry of the judgment on the Housing Court's docket

File a notice of appeal in the Housing Court Clerk's Office. 

Eviction cases

For eviction cases you are ordinarily required to post a bond and make monthly payments.  You have a separate right of appeal from bond and periodic payment orders.

For eviction cases, you must file a notice of appeal within 10 days of the entry of the judgment on the Housing Court's docket.  If you are appealing from a bond or periodic payment order, you must file the notice of appeal within 10 days of the entry of the order requiring the bond or within six days of receiving the order, whichever is later. 

The Housing Appeals Guide has a detailed explanation of the process

Other cases

For other types of cases from the Housing Court, the notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of entry of the judgment.

For most cases, the appeal is to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. 

Additional Resources for Appealing cases from Housing Court

Appealing cases from Probate and Family Court

Within 30 days of the entry of the judgment or final decree on the docket.

File a notice of appeal in the Register's Office within 30 days of the entry of the judgment or final decree on the docket.

The appeal is to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. 

Additional Resources for Appealing cases from Probate and Family Court

Appealing cases from Juvenile Court

Within 30 days of the entry of the judgment or final adjudication on the docket.

For most appeals, file a notice of appeal in the Juvenile Court’s Clerk's Office within 30 days of the entry of the judgment or final adjudication on the docket. 

The appeal is to the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

Additional Resources for Appealing cases from Juvenile Court

Appealing cases from Land Court

For almost all cases, within 30 days of entry of the judgment on the docket

File a notice of appeal in the Land Court Recorder's Office. For almost all cases, this should be filed within 30 days of entry of the judgment on the docket. 

For almost all cases, the appeal is to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. 

Additional Resources for Appealing cases from Land Court

Appealing civil cases from Superior Court

Within 30 days of the entry of the judgment or final order on the docket of the Superior Court.

File a notice of appeal in the Superior Court Clerk's Office within 30 days of the entry of the judgment or final order on the docket of the Superior Court.

The appeal is to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. 

Additional Resources for Appealing civil cases from Superior Court

Appealing small claims decisions

A defendant may file an appeal in a small claims action from a clerk magistrate's decision in the District or Municipal Court, by filing a claim for appeal to the jury session within 10 days of the magistrate's decision

The party who filed a small claims action (called the plaintiff) has no right of appeal from a decision.  By filing the case as a small claims case, the plaintiff has waived the right to appeal the decision. 

A defendant may file an appeal in a small claims action from a clerk magistrate's decision in the District or Municipal Court, by filing a claim for appeal to the jury session within 10 days of the magistrate's decision.  Because not all District Courts have jury sessions, check with the clerk's office for guidance on how to file such an appeal.  There is no further right to appeal from the jury session of the District or Municipal Court. 

If the small claims case began in the Housing Court and was heard by a judge or jury there, a defendant has a right to appeal to the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

Appealing abuse prevention orders

Within 30 days of the entry of the order or its denial

All appeals from all courts concerning abuse prevention orders are reviewed by the Appeals Court.  The appeals are all started the same way, no matter which court entered the order: by filing a notice of appeal in the clerk/register's office of the court that issued or refused to issue the order within 30 days of the entry of the order or its denial.  

There is no right of appeal from a trial court’s issuance of, or refusal to issue, a temporary restraining order (10-day order).

Additional Resources for Appealing abuse prevention orders

Appealing civil motor vehicle infraction decisions

The party against whom a citation is issued may, within 20 days of the date of the citation, sign the request for a hearing found on the back of the citation, and mail it to the Registrar at the address indicated on the citation.  The Registrar will notify the Clerk Magistrate of the District Court for the judicial district in which the infraction occurred of the request for hearing, and the Clerk Magistrate will schedule a hearing on the matter.  

Any party may appeal the Clerk Magistrate's decision to a justice of the District Court, who will hear the case de novo.  The party must notify the Clerk Magistrate of its intent to appeal to a justice prior to the conclusion of the Clerk Magistrate's hearing, unless the Clerk Magistrate allows additional time to do so.   

Within 10 days of the justice's decision, any party may appeal questions of law to the Appellate Division of the District Court by filing a "claim of appeal" form in the District Court Clerk's Office.  See Appealing a civil case from the District Court, above, for more information. 

Within 30 days of the Appellate Division's decision, any party may appeal to the Appeals Court by filing a notice of appeal in the District Court Clerk's Office. 

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