Guide to Appellate Briefs
The brief is a party’s opportunity to argue why the lower court’s decision is legally incorrect or correct. The appellant’s (appealing party’s) brief contains a statement of the issues on appeal, the procedural history of the case, a statement of the underlying facts, the appellant's legal argument, and a conclusion stating the relief sought.
Many appeals are determined solely on the briefs filed by the parties; there is no right to argue a case orally before the court.
If an appellant fails to timely file his or her appellate brief, the Appeals Court will begin a process to dismiss the case, pursuant to an Appeals Court Standing Order.
Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure (Mass. R. App. P.) 1, 16, 19, and 20, the Appeals Court Standing Order Concerning Electronic Filing, and electronic filing format requirements found on this website govern the content and format of an appellate brief.
Cover Color. The appellant's principal appellate brief must have a blue cover. The appellee’s brief (the response brief) must have a red cover. Any reply brief must have a grey cover. The color cover requirements do not apply to any electronically filed brief or paper filed brief filed by a self-represented litigant confined in an institution. Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(6)(A).
Cover Content. The cover of each brief must have the name of the case, the Appeals Court docket number, the name of the trial court, the nature of the proceeding (e.g., Appeal), the title of the document (e.g., Appellant's Brief), and the filer’s name, address, e-mail address, telephone number, BBO number (if applicable), and law firm name (if applicable). Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(6)(B).
Format and Pagination. All paper briefs must be securely bound on the left hand side. The pages of the brief should be consecutively numbered, with page numbers appearing in the margins, starting with the cover as page 1. Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(4). The brief must be typed and printed in black ink, double spaced, on 8 1/2" by 11" inch white paper. Footnotes must be typed using the same font and point size but they may be single spaced.
Font. As stated in the Reporter's Notes to Mass. R. App. P. 20, it is suggested that Courier New font, 12 point size, be used when typing your brief, because it is the monospaced font most widely used by parties when filing briefs with the Appeals Court. If producing the brief in a monospaced font (such as Courier New), the margins must be 1.5” on the left and the right, and 1” on the top and bottom. When using a monospaced font, you must use the applicable page limit specified in Mass. R. App. P. 20(a).
Proportional Font and Word Count Alternative to the Page Limit. Alternatively, you may produce your brief using a proportionally spaced font and a word limit. If you choose to do so, you must select a proportionally spaced font (e.g., Times New Roman), the font must be 14 point size or larger, all margins must be 1" or larger, and the applicable word limit specified in Mass. R. App. P. 20(a) must be used. If produced in a proportionally spaced font, the certificate of compliance that is required for all briefs (see below) must indicate the font you selected, number of non-excluded words, and method of computation.
Length Limits. In a non-cross appeal, the length limits are as follows: appellant/appellee brief = 50 pages in monospaced font or 11,000 words in proportional font; reply brief = 20 pages in monospaced font or 4,500 words in proportional font. Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(2). The cover, table of contents, table of authorities, signature block, addendum, and certificates of compliance and service do not count against the length limits. Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(3)(F). For the length limits in cross appeals, see Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(3)(A)-(D).
The brief is required to contain the following elements, arranged in the order as set out below and in Mass. R. App. P. 16.
Cover. The brief begins with a cover with the appropriate color and content as described above. The cover should be paginated as page 1. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(1).
Table of Contents. The table of contents must include page references to pages in the brief where the content appears. The table of contents shall list each section of the brief, including the headings and subheadings and the page on which they begin. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(3).
Table of authorities. The table of authorities must list each case referred to with references to pages in the brief where the case citation appears. The authorities shall be listed alphabetically or numerically, as applicable. This table shall also include statutes, rules, and other legal authorities with appropriate page references. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(4).
Statement of the Issues. This is a brief summary of the issues that will be raised in the brief and discussed in the argument section. The statement of the issues is the first page that counts against the page limit. The appellee’s brief is not required to contain a statement of the issues unless the appellee is dissatisfied with the statement of the appellant. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(5).
Statement of the Case. The statement of the case is a procedural history of what happened to your case. It must have page references to the record appendix or transcript. The appellee’s brief is not required to contain a statement of the case unless the appellee is dissatisfied with the statement of the appellant. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(6).
Statement of the Facts. The statement of the facts should be an objective description of the facts of your case as it developed and proceeded in the trial court. Importantly, every fact included in this statement must have support in the record appendix or transcript and must be followed by a page reference to the appendix or transcript where that fact appears. The appellee’s brief is not required to contain a statement of the facts unless the appellee is dissatisfied with the statement of the appellant. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(7).
Summary of the argument. This is only necessary if your argument section is longer than 20 pages. This section is a brief summary of the arguments made later in the brief and should have a page reference to the pages at which each point argued appears later in the brief. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(8).
Argument. The argument section contains the legal argument that supports the issues you are raising on appeal. Your legal argument must be supported by legal authority such as appellate case law, statutes, and/or regulations. You must use official case citations, and citations to Massachusetts Reports (either Mass. or Mass. App. Ct.) rather than regional digests (N.E.2d) are preferred. For example, use Commonwealth v. Moffett, 383 Mass. 201 (1981) not Commonwealth v. Moffett, 418 N.E.2d 585 (1981). For each issue raised in the argument, you must identify the standard of review for the appellate court. The appellate court need not pass upon questions or issues not argued in the brief. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(9).
Request for Attorney’s Fees and Costs. If you are requesting appellate attorney’s fees and costs, you must make that request in your brief and provide a citation to the authority that authorizes the court to award those fees and costs. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(10).
Conclusion. This is a concise statement of the relief that you are asking the court to give you. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(11).
Signature Block. A brief must contain a signature block that includes your printed and singed name, mailing address, electronic address, and telephone number. The signature block also must include the date of signing. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(12).
Addendum. The addendum is not the same as the appendix. The addendum is physically attached to the end of your brief and must include a copy of the order, judgment, or decree that you are appealing. If the judge's order or decision is handwritten, you must also create and include a typed copy. If you are citing to a constitutional provision, statute, regulation, or unpublished decision (such as an Appeals Court memorandum and order pursuant to Rule 1:28) as authority in support of your legal arguments, you must include a copy of that authority. The addendum requires a table of contents listing each item contained therein and the page on which it begins and also must continue the pagination of the brief. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(13).
Certificate of Compliance. You must provide a certificate that certifies that you have complied with the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure that pertain to the filing of briefs. See Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(14) and (k). The Appeals Court provides a form that you may use for the certificate of compliance or you may draft your own certificate that complies with the rule.
Certificate of Service. A certificate of service must be filed with the Appeals Court at the time of the filing of your brief and appendix. The certificate of service should be the last page of the brief. A certificate of service is signed under the pains and penalties of perjury, lists the date and manner of service (e.g., e-service, first class mail, in hand service), and must provide the address at which each party was served. Mass. R. App. P. 16(a)(15).
Additional Resources for
Record Appendix – General
The record appendix, or appendix, is the collection of those portions of the trial court's record (e.g., papers, exhibits and/or transcripts) relevant to the issues, facts, and arguments set forth in your brief. The appendix must include a copy of the trial court docket, as well as a copy of the order, judgment, or decree being appealed, and a copy of the notice(s) of appeal, and any order of impoundment of confidentiality from the lower court.
It is the appellant’s responsibility to provide the Court with each document and/or transcript required by Mass. R. App. P. 18 as well as those that you believe is necessary to decide your appeal. The entire record is not transmitted to the Appeals Court. If you do not provide it, it will not be considered by the judges deciding your case. Failure to provide necessary documents and/or transcripts can result in waiver of issues. Mass. R. App. P. 18.
Documents that are not part of the record are not permitted to be included in the appendix.
Record Appendix - Format
If paper filed, the appendix must be separately bound from your brief. Mass. R. App. P. 18(a). If electronically filed, it must be submitted as a separate PDF. It must have a white cover containing the same information that is on the cover of your brief. The cover must be paginated as page 1. The appendix must have a table of contents which identifies each document and lists the page number of the appendix at which it starts. Mass R. App. P. 18(d). If there are multiple volumes, the first volume of the appendix is to include a complete table of contents referencing all volumes of the appendix, and each other volume must include a table of contents for only that volume.
The pages must be consecutively numbered, for example, RA1, RA2, etc., starting with the cover as RA1, and the documents should be placed in the same chronological order as they were filed in the trial court, starting with the trial court's docket.
The appendix cannot be more than 1.5” thick if paper or 25MB if e-filed. If it is, it must be broken into separate volumes. Rule 20(a). The cover of each volume should identify its number in comparison to the total number of volumes designated by a Roman numeral (e.g., "Vol. I of III"). Mass. R. App. P. 20(a)(5). Each volume should be separately paginated, beginning at page 1.
Inclusion of Impounded Materials in Briefs or Record Appendices
All parties are reminded that it is their responsibility to take appropriate precautions to ensure that confidential case information does not become public. In summary:
Appellate level impoundment procedures are governed by Rule 1:15 of the Rules of the Supreme Judicial Court ("S.J.C. Rule 1:15") and the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure. The rules apply regardless of whether the appeal is made to a single justice or to the full court or panel. All information impounded in the trial court will remain impounded in the appellate courts, unless otherwise ordered, provided the parties follow the required procedures. It is important to stress that the clerks of the appellate courts are under no duty to review the contents of filings for the purpose of identifying impounded information. Therefore, parties must comply with Rules 16(d), 16(m), 18(a), and 18(d) of Massachusetts Appellate Procedure if they wish to keep the information confidential. These rules require that:
- the parties refrain from disclosing impounded material, unless necessary.
- the disclosing party, when disclosure is necessary, file and serve a notice of the disclosure or filing of such information.
- the cover of briefs, record appendices, and other filings containing impounded material clearly indicate its inclusion (e.g., "Impounded" or "Contains references to impounded material").
- in cases where only certain portions of the record need to be impounded, parties file a separate record appendix volume containing only that material, its cover labeled as containing impounded material.
- the parties use a pseudonym or initials if a party's name is confidential or impounded.
- a copy of any order of impoundment shall be included in the record appendix.
- the parties not disclose impounded material at oral argument unless necessary and, in such instances, notify the clerk in advance and, in appropriate cases, make such disclosures in a manner that protects the confidential information.
Protection of Personally Identifying Information
All parties must follow Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:24 ("S.J.C. Rule 1:24") and Mass R. App. P. 21 to protect Personally Identifying Information ("PII") when filing any publicly accessible court document. This rule applies to briefs, appendices, motions, and any other filings accessible to the public. This summary is not a substitute for the complete rule, which must be read to ensure your filing conforms to the rule.
PII includes social security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, driver's license numbers, state-issued ID card numbers, passport numbers, financial account numbers, credit or debit card numbers, and parent's birth surnames (if identified as such).
The filer of a document is responsible for redacting any PII unless a specific exemption applies. Exemptions include a law or court order specifically requiring the information or the PII is an account number necessary to identify an account subject to a forfeiture proceeding.
Section 10 of Rule 1:24 discusses appellate court filings in detail. PII must be redacted in the appellate record appendix even if it was filed unredacted in the trial court. If a brief must contain unredacted PII pursuant to an exemption, one additional copy of the brief must be filed, labeled "Limited Personal Identifying Information" on the cover, in which the PII has been redacted. To file unredacted PII as part of the record appendix, parties must first obtain the leave of the Appeals Court.
"Redacted" means a filing that either does not include complete PII or has portions of such information whited or blacked out so they are not readable. To redact PII in documents drafted for filing, either replace omitted information with "xxx", or use "beginning/ending with", for example "driver's license number ending with 23", or "checking account no. xxx645". In all documents that were not drafted for filing in court, such as copies of pre-existing exhibits, the filer shall partially redact all personal identifying information as required by this rule. All redactions shall be made in a way that prevents the redacted information from being read or made visible.
Rule 1:24 has commentary from the drafting committee to provide aid in understanding and applying the rule.
Filing the Brief and Appendix
The appellant’s brief and appendix must be served and filed together within 40 days after the entry of your appeal in the Appeals Court, unless a Motion to Enlarge has been filed and allowed. You may hand deliver, mail, or electronically transmit the briefs and appendices to the court. If you are transmitting your brief on the day that is it due, you must also include a written certificate attesting that the date of mailing of the brief is within the time for filing. Mass. R. App. P. 13(a)(1). If the Court receives your brief and affidavit after the due date, the brief will be deemed timely filed as of the date it was mailed, pursuant to Mass. R. App. P. 13(a)(1).
For paper briefs, 4 copies of the brief and record appendix must be filed with the court, and 2 copies shall be served on each party. The brief must have a certificate of service, showing that you have delivered, or caused to be delivered, the filing upon the opposing counsel, or opposing party if the other party is not represented by counsel.
If you are indigent, you may move to file a reduced number of copies, as detailed in Mass. R. App. P. 12(b).
Brief Templates and Filing Checklist
The Appeals Court has created a Brief Template and an Appendix Template that you can use to make sure you format your brief correctly. The templates contain guidance similar to the guidance on this page, and are intended to help you file a correctly-formatted brief. Any item in the template that is surrounded by [square brackets] should be replaced or filled in with material specific to your case. The Appeals Court has also a created checklist to help you ensure that your brief and appendix meet all of the filing requirements.
The templates and checklist contain a summary of the rules for filing and formatting. The templates and checklist are not substitutes for the official rules, and in the case of a conflict or ambiguity, the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure remain the official source for the rules that apply to the filing of briefs and appendices.
Note that all e-filed documents shall comply with the formatting requirements of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure except as modified by the Appeals Court's electronic filing format requirements found on this website.
Additional Resources for
Rejection of Briefs/Noncompliant Briefs
The justices take the formatting of briefs very seriously and the clerk’s office will reject briefs for failure to follow formatting requirements and other requirements as specified in the Rules of Appellate Procedure. Mass. R.A.P. 20(a)(7).
If the court determines that a brief does not comply with the rules, the filer will be told what needs to be corrected and will be given time to make those corrections. A Motion to File Nonconforming Brief may be filed if compliance with the rules is not possible.