Alternative dispute resolution is rightly gaining steam as an efficient, fair mechanism for the resolution of complex business disputes. Many companies are redrafting their standard-form contracts to include mandatory arbitration clauses. This is particularly true for companies doing business across state or national borders, so that they might avoid being hauled into court in a foreign jurisdiction. But what if you agree to arbitrate a business dispute and end up losing? Do you have any recourse?
A recent SJC decision illustrates the unfortunate position in which a party may find itself when it fails to file an appeal but finds itself before an appellate court nonetheless as a result of an appeal filed by the opposing party. In Town of Athol v. Professional Firefighters of Athol, Local 1751, 470 Mass. 1001 (2014), the Supreme Judicial Court considered arguments that arose when town of Athol unilaterally raised the co-payments paid by members of a firefighters' union for medical services. After the union filed a grievance, alleging that the town's action had violated its collective bargaining agreement, the matter proceeded to arbitration. An arbitrator determined that changes to health insurance benefits were mandatory subjects of collective bargaining and the town had violated the collective bargaining agreement by making the changes unilaterally. The arbitrator required the town to return the co-payments to their original amounts and to "make union members whole for economic losses" incurred as a result of its improper action. The town appealed the arbitrator's award, filing a complaint in the Superior Court.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court requires some pleadings to be filed electronically, rather than through hard copy. Although the Standing Order concerning electronic filings has been effective for nearly three years, it is still a confusing process that is ripe for errors.
The Supreme Court of the United States issued a recent decision answering the question of whether an appeal period begins after a court determines the merits of the case or after it awards attorney's fees and costs.
I recently attended a continuing legal education seminar where the Clerk of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Joseph Stanton, provided useful information concerning post-oral argument letters, often described as "16L Letters."
Why should you hire an appellate attorney? You may be happy with your trial counsel, having already worked and developed a good relationship with your trial counsel for months or perhaps years. Plus, your trial counsel already knows the facts of your case. There are, however, specific advantages to hiring appellate counsel.
A party must act quickly to appeal an adverse judgment. Rule 3(a) of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure requires that a Notice of Appeal be filed within 30 days with the clerk of the lower court. This is the most important deadline of the appellate process; an untimely filing of the Notice of Appeal is subject to dismissal.
Often attorneys and clients think of the appeals process as an abyss - a long, uncertain process where they wait many months (or years) for a final resolution of their legal case. Although a typical trip to the Massachusetts Appeals Court is by no means quick, the process is ordinarily not too complicated.