Guide to Appellate Briefs
The brief is a party’s opportunity to argue why the trial 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 Appeals Court Standing Order.
Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure (Mass.R.A.P.) 1, 16, 19, and 20 and electronic filing format requirements found on this website govern the content and format of an appellate brief. The principal appellate brief must have a blue cover and cannot be longer than 50 pages. The appellee’s brief (the response brief) must have a red cover, and also cannot be longer than 50 pages. Any reply brief must have a grey cover and cannot be longer than 20 pages. Note that for self-represented litigants who are confined in an institution, the requirement of Mass. R. App. P. 20(a) that a paper brief must have a color cover is suspended and no color cover is required. Color requirements also do not apply to the covers of documents filed electronically.
All paper briefs must be securely bound on the left hand side. The pages of the brief should be consecutively numbered, starting with the cover as page "1." The table of contents and table of authorities do not count toward the page limitations.
The cover of each brief must have the name of the case, the Appeals Court docket number, the name of the trial court, the title of the document (i.e., Appellant's Brief), and the filer’s name, address, telephone number, and the e-mail addresses of any counsel representing the party on whose behalf the brief is filed and, if an individual counsel is affiliated with a law firm, the firm name.
The margins must be 1 and ½” on the left and the right, and 1” on the top and bottom.
The brief must be typed and printed in black ink using a monospaced font, double spaced, on 8 1/2" by 11" inch white paper.
A monospaced font is one where each letter takes up the same amount of space as every other letter. As stated in the Reporter's Notes to Mass.R.A.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.
Notably, footnotes must be typed using the same font and point size.
The brief is required to contain the following elements, arranged in the order as set out below and in Rule 16. This guidance is not a substitute for a close reading of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.
Table of contents with page references to pages in the brief where the content appears.
Table of authorities including a list of cases referred to, alphabetically arranged, with references to pages in the brief where the case citation appears. This table should also include statutes and other legal authorities with appropriate page references. Citations must be to the official Massachusetts Reporter volume.
Statement of the issues 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 of the substantive portion of your brief, and should be numbered as page 1. 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.
Statement of the case is a procedural history of what happened to your case. It is helpful to have page references to the record appendix to support your statement of the case. 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.
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 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 case unless the appellee is dissatisfied with the statement of the appellant.
Summary of the argument is necessary only if your argument section is longer than 24 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.
Argument 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).
If you are citing to a constitutional provision, statute or regulation as authority in support of your legal arguments, you must include as an addendum to the brief a copy of the constitutional provision, statute or regulation. This is referred to as the statutory addendum.
Conclusion. This is a concise statement of the relief that you are asking the court to give you.
Mass.R.A.P. 16(k) certificate of compliance. The last page of every brief must contain a statement which certifies that you have complied with the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure that pertain to the filing of briefs.
Addendum. The addendum is physically attached to the end of your brief and must include copies of any statutes, rules, regulations, or local ordinances that you refer to in your brief. It must also contain a copy of the order, judgment or decree that you are appealing. The addendum is not the same as the appendix. The addendum pages should also be consecutively numbered, for example, Add. 1, Add. 2, etc.
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.
Additional Resources for Contents
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 also include a copy of the trial court docket, as well as a copy of the order, judgment, or decree being appealed.
It is the appellant’s responsibility to provide the Court with each document and/or transcript that you believe is necessary to decide your appeal. If you do not provide it, it will not be considered by the judges deciding your case.
Documents that are not part of the record are not permitted to be included in the appendix.
Record Appendix - Format
The appendix must be, separate from your brief and, have a white cover containing the same information that is on the cover of your brief. The appendix must have a table of contents which identifies each document and lists the page number of the appendix at which it starts. Rule 18(d). 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 and ½” 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 (e.g., "Vol. 1 of 3").
Additional Resources for Record Appendix - Format
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(g) 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") 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 within forty days after the entry of your appeal in the Appeals Court, unless a Motion to Enlarge has been filed and allowed. Rules 19(a) and (b)(1).
If paper filing rather than e-filing, you must file (4) copies of the brief and appendix. If you are mailing your paper brief on the day that is it due, you must also include a written statement to the court, also known as an affidavit of mailing, in which you swear that the brief was mailed to the court on or before the date due. Rule 13(a)(ii). 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 Rule 13(a)(ii).
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 created checklists (paper brief and e-filed brief) to help you ensure that your brief and appendix meet all of the filing requirements.
The templates and checklists contain a summary of the rules for filing and formatting. The templates and checklists 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 Brief Templates and Filing Checklist
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.
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.