Appellate proceedings in Massachusetts
In both federal and state courts, a party may appeal only final orders, decisions, or judgments. After the entry of a final order, decision, or judgment, there are strict procedural deadlines as to the number of days within which an appeal must be filed. Grounds for appeal are extremely limited. An order of a court will not be reversed unless the appellant can show that either the order was clearly contrary to law or that the judge abused his or her discretion.
Likewise, there is limited review of trial judgments. It is not generally sufficient to show error in the conduct of trial; the appellant must show harm or prejudice that was caused by the error (for example, the introduction of evidence which the appellant argued was improper and without which the appellant most likely would have prevailed). Appellate courts disregard harmless errors or defects that do not affect the substantial rights of the parties in determining whether a particular case should be reversed.
Under Massachusetts statute, in a civil case, unless otherwise provided by statute, the notice of appeal shall be filed with the clerk of the lower court within thirty days of the date of the entry of the judgment appealed.
ALM RAP 3 Rule 3. Appeal -- How Taken
(a) Filing the Notice of Appeal. An appeal permitted by law from a lower court shall be taken by filing a notice of appeal with the clerk of the lower court within the time allowed by Rule 4. Failure of an appellant to take any step other than the timely filing of a notice of appeal shall not affect the validity of the appeal, but shall be ground only for such action as the appellate court deems appropriate, which may include dismissal of the appeal.
A party need not claim an appeal from an interlocutory order to preserve his right to have such order reviewed upon appeal from the final judgment; but for all purposes for which an appeal from an interlocutory order has heretofore been necessary, it is sufficient that the party comply with the requirement of Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure 46 or Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure 22, whichever was applicable to the trial of the case in the lower court.
(b) Joint or Consolidated Appeals. If two or more persons are entitled to appeal from a judgment or order of a lower court and their interests are such as to make joinder practicable, they may file a joint notice of appeal, or may join in appeal after filing separate timely notices of appeal, and they may thereafter proceed on appeal as a single appellant. Appeals may be consolidated by order of the appellate court upon its own motion or upon motion of a party, or by stipulation of the parties to the several appeals.
(c) Content of the Notice of Appeal. The notice of appeal shall specify the party or parties taking the appeal and shall, in civil cases, designate the judgment, decree, adjudication, order, or part thereof appealed from. In child welfare cases, the notice of appeal and any request for a transcript, if required, shall be signed by the party or parties taking the appeal, unless the appellant is the minor subject of the action; a notice of appeal that is not so signed shall not be accepted for filing by the clerk.
(d) Service of the Notice of Appeal. The clerk of the lower court shall serve notice of the filing of a notice of appeal by mailing a copy thereof to counsel of record for each party other than the appellant, or, if a party is not represented by counsel, to the party at his last known address. The clerk shall note on each copy served the date on which the notice of appeal was filed. Failure of the clerk to serve notice shall not affect the validity of the appeal. Service shall be sufficient notwithstanding the death of a party or his counsel. The clerk shall note in the docket the names of the persons to whom he mails copies, with the date of mailing.
(e) Change of Counsel on Appeal in Criminal and Certain Non-Criminal Cases. If the defendant in a criminal case or any party in any other proceeding, excluding child welfare cases, in which counsel is required to be made available to such party pursuant to Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:10 was represented by counsel at trial, trial counsel shall continue to represent that party on appeal until the trial court permits him to withdraw his appearance and until an appearance is filed by substitute counsel. If trial counsel wishes to withdraw, he shall, on the day upon which the notice of appeal is filed, file a motion to withdraw. Any motion under this provision shall be marked up by the trial counsel for hearing no later than seven days after filing. If the motion to withdraw is allowed, the judge shall assign the Committee for Public Counsel Services to provide representation according to the procedures established in Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:10.
(f) Appointment of Appellate Counsel in Child Welfare Cases. Any party to a child welfare case in which counsel was appointed pursuant to Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:10 and who was represented by counsel at trial, shall continue to be represented by that counsel on appeal until either the trial court has appointed counsel for appellate purposes and an appearance has been filed by appellate counsel or the trial court has denied a motion to appoint counsel for appellate purposes.
Trial counsel shall, on the day upon which the signed notice of appeal is filed, file, and request a hearing on, a motion to allow reasonable costs associated with the appeal. At the same time, if trial counsel is not appellate certified by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, counsel shall also file, and request a hearing on, a motion to appoint counsel for appellate purposes. Subject to the provisions of Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:10, § 7, trial counsel shall continue to represent the party at all trial court proceedings.
If the motion to appoint counsel for appellate purposes is allowed, the Committee for Public Counsel Services shall be assigned to provide representation according to the procedures established in Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:10.
ALM RAP 4. Rule 4. Appeal -- When Taken
(a) Appeals in Civil Cases. In a civil case, unless otherwise provided by statute, the notice of appeal required by Rule 3 shall be filed with the clerk of the lower court within thirty days of the date of the entry of the judgment appealed from; but if the Commonwealth or an officer or agency thereof is a party, the notice of appeal may be filed by any party within sixty days of such entry, except in child welfare cases, in which the notice of appeal shall be filed within thirty days from the date of the entry of the judgment, decree, order, or adjudication. If a notice of appeal is mistakenly filed in an appellate court, the clerk of such appellate court shall note the date on which it was received and transmit it to the clerk of the lower court from which the appeal was taken and it shall be deemed filed in such lower court on the date so noted. If a timely notice of appeal is filed by a party, any other party may file a notice of appeal within fourteen days of the date on which the first notice of appeal was filed, or within the time otherwise prescribed by this rule, whichever period last expires.
If a timely motion under the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure is filed in the lower court by any party: (1) for judgment under Rule 50(b); (2) under Rule 52(b) to amend or make additional findings of fact, whether or not an alteration of the judgment would be required if the motion is granted; (3) under Rule 59 to alter or amend a judgment; or (4) under Rule 59 for a new trial, the time for appeal for all parties shall run from the entry of the order denying a new trial or granting or denying any other such motion. A notice of appeal filed before the disposition of any of the above motions shall have no effect. A new notice of appeal must be filed within the prescribed time measured from the entry of the order disposing of the motion as provided above. No additional fees shall be required for such filing.
(b) Appeals in Criminal Cases. In a criminal case, unless otherwise provided by statute or court rule, the notice of appeal required by Rule 3 shall be filed with the clerk of the lower court within thirty days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from; or entry of a notice of appeal by the Commonwealth; or the imposition of sentence.
The running of the time for filing a notice of appeal shall be terminated as to the moving party by a motion for a new trial pursuant to Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure 30 filed in the lower court within thirty days after the verdict or finding of guilt or within thirty days after imposition of sentence and the full time fixed by this rule shall commence to run and shall be computed from the date of entry of an order denying such motion.
(c) Extension of Time for Filing Notice of Appeal. Upon a showing of excusable neglect, the lower court may extend the time for filing the notice of appeal by any party for a period not to exceed thirty days from the expiration of the time otherwise prescribed by this rule. Such an extension may be granted before or after the time otherwise prescribed by this rule has expired; but if a request for an extension is made after such time has expired, it shall be made by motion with such notice as the lower court shall deem appropriate.