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Clerk's guide to filing cases in the Supreme Judicial Court

The process of filing a case in the Supreme Judicial Court.

I. Entry of an Appeal

See generally Rule 10(a) of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

An appeal from the action of the Single Justice, upon the assembly of the record, is entered upon the payment of the filing fee of $300, or upon request of the party if the fee is waived. Thereafter the briefing is governed by Rule 19.

II. Direct Appellate Review

Applications for direct appellate review ("DAR") are governed by Rule 11 of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

The DAR application should be filed within 21 days of the docketing of the appeal in the Appeals Court. The questions presented in the application should be questions of first impression or novel issues of law, constitutional questions, or questions of great public interest. Applications are typically decided without oral argument.

Requirements for the contents of the application are set forth at Rule 11(b). A response may be filed within 14 days, according to Rule 11(c). The covers of the application and response should be white, Rule 20(a)(6)(A), and other requirements as to form are also covered in that Rule.

The application may be e-filed to avoid the requirement to file additional paper copies. Courtesy copies no longer need to be filed with the Appeals Court.

If the application is allowed, the time for serving and filing briefs is set forth under Rule 11(g).

III. Further Appellate Review

Applications for further appellate review are governed by the provisions of Rule 27.1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

The FAR application should be filed within 21 days of the date of the decision of the Appeals Court. The application should be based on substantial reasons affecting the public interest or the interests of justice. Applications are typically decided without oral argument.

Requirements for the contents of the application are set forth at Rule 27.1(b). A response may be filed, within 14 days, according to Rule 27.1(c). The covers of the application and response should be white, Rule 20(a)(6)(A), and other requirements as to form are also covered in that subsection.

The application may be e-filed. The filing fee is $270 in civil cases, plus a $7 e-filing vendor fee. There is no filing fee in criminal cases.

One copy of the application and one copy of each response are filed in the Clerk's Office, and a copy is served on each other party. Courtesy copies no longer need to be filed with the Appeals Court. Rule 27.1(d).

If the application is allowed, Rule 27.1(f) governs the filing of a new brief in lieu of copies of the Appeals Court brief. The parties on further appellate review retain the same designation (appellant or appellee) and file the same color brief as in the Appeals Court. The caption remains the same as in the Appeals Court. See also Rule 19(d)(1)(B)(ii).

IV. Full Bench Motions Procedure

A statement of the required form of motions is found in Rule 20 of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.
 
Motions must be filed and served in accordance with Rule 13.
 
The content of motions is discussed in Rule 15

Motions may be referred for disposition or recommendation to a single justice, from which an appeal may be taken and briefed. Motions may also be referred to the Justices for argument, if the issue is briefed, at the time the case in chief is argued. 

Generally, the Clerk's Office will wait ten days for a response to any motion filed, before referring the matter to the justices. Motions are not argued before the full bench unless so directed by the Justices.

Motions to Strike.  Motions to strike are referred to the panel that hears the case. Correctable defects in form or timing of filings are generally not dispositive of cases pending on appeal and motions to strike on those bases are not favored.

Motions to Dismiss.  Motions to dismiss are referred to the Justices, who may hear argument, if the issue is briefed, at the time the case is argued.

Dismissal.  Dismissal of a case on appeal -- upon agreement or settlement, by reason of mootness, or other disposition -- is governed by Rule 29, which is specific in its requirements.

Motions to Impound.  Motions to impound filed in the first instance in this court are not favored. See SJC Rule 1:15 and Trial Court Rule VIII.

Motions for New Trial in First Degree Murder Appeals.  If, while the appeal is pending but before argument, the defendant wishes to file a motion for a new trial, it should be filed in the Clerk's Office, whereupon it may be remanded to the trial court for hearing or other appropriate proceedings. See Rule 19(c)(2).

After plenary review under G.L. c. 278, §33E of an appeal from an adverse ruling, any motions for new trial that the defendant files in the trial court are subject to the gatekeeper function of the single justice.
 
Motions for Attorney's Fees and Costs.  Requests for costs are governed by Rule 26 of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

A party must affirmatively request attorney's fees in its brief, see Yorke Mgt. v. Castro, 406 Mass. 17 (1989) and Fabre v. Walton, 441 Mass. 9 (2004).

V. Briefs

The form of briefs is detailed under Rule 20(a) of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

In particular: the appellant's brief cover is blue, appellee's brief is red, reply brief is gray, amici's brief is green, intervenor's brief is yellow, and the appendix is white. Service of the briefs is governed by Rules 13 and 19(a). The appellant's brief is due forty days after the case is entered on the court docket, and the appellee's brief is due thirty days after service of the last appellant brief. Reply briefs are due fourteen days after service of the last appellee brief, or 7 days before argument, whichever is earlier. Seven copies of each brief and appendix must be filed with the Clerk, and two copies served on counsel for each party separately represented. Rule 19(d)(1)(B).

Requirements for the content of the briefs are set forth in Rule 16(a).

Requirements for the length of briefs are set forth in Rule 20(a). Motions to exceed page limits are granted only for extraordinary reasons.

In addition, Rules 16 (a)(13) and (b)(3) set forth requirements for the brief's addendum.

The forms of Massachusetts citations are set forth in Rule 16(g).

Counsel must certify that their briefs comply with the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure. Rule 16(k).

Briefs in first degree murder appeals have different rules with respect to the time required for filing of briefs. Rule 19(c)(1).

Briefs of amicus curiae are discussed at Rule 17.

Citation to supplemental authorities after briefing is governed by Rule 16(l).

VI. Oral Argument

The Justices sit for four days during the first full week of each month from September through May. Approximately 20 cases are considered each month. Sessions begin promptly at 9 a.m. Oral arguments are public proceedings. All arguments are webcast and are archived for later public viewing.

The Clerk sends notice to cases that are fully briefed and ready about two months before oral argument. From the cases in which counsel will be available on the proposed dates, the Clerk selects the cases that will be heard. The Clerk then orders those cases on the list; once a case has been ordered on a list, it cannot be removed except upon motion.

The appellant typically argues first. Each side argues for fifteen minutes, with time divided as counsel agree (more than two attorneys arguing per side is not favored). No rebuttal time is allowed.

Citation to supplemental authorities after argument is governed by Rule 16(l).

Any party may waive argument and submit on brief.

Most cases will be decided within 130 days of oral argument.

At 8 a.m. on the day of decision, the names of the cases to be released are available on Twitter @MassReports and the full text of the opinion is available at 10 a.m. on the New Opinions webpage.

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