Key Changes in the 2019 Amendments to the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure

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Last month the Supreme Judicial Court announced amendments to the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure, which will take effect on March 1, 2019. The amendments include substantial modifications and clarifications to the rules of appellate procedure currently in effect. A key modification throughout the amendments is a change to filing deadlines. The deadlines for filing will be in 7-day increments, replacing the 10- or 20-day deadlines which have caused confusion because the deadlines sometimes landed on a weekend or holiday. Throughout the amendments there are general changes, such as using only gender-neutral terms, replacing "trial court" with "lower court", eliminating references to obsolete technology, and making the language of the rules more modern and easily understood. Additionally, the new rules are more handily broken down into parts and subparts, making referencing specific rule provisions easier for litigants and the courts.

While some rules had only minor changes, others had more significant modification. Below are three rules with major changes in the amended Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Rule 16
One of the most significant amendments to the rules is in Rule 16. The rule was substantially reorganized with section (a) enumerating in a checklist format the required contents of an appellant's brief. Additionally, the amended rule requires new components to the brief not previously required including: a corporate disclosure statement pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 1:21, a statement of the standard of review, references to the record in the statement of the case section, and a citation to case law if requesting appellate attorney's fees. Further, if unpublished decisions are cited to in the brief, those decisions must be included in the addendum. The appellee's brief should be formatted similarly to an appellant's brief, with certain exceptions as stated in Rule 16(b

Rule 18
Like Rule 16, Rule 18 creates a checklist of the required contents of a record appendix. The contents should be assembled in the order enumerated in the rule, in order to facilitate the appeals court in easily finding materials in the record appendix. Additionally, the record appendix is to be bound and filed separately from the brief. Notably, the new rule cautions that the lower court does not transmit the entire record to the appellate court, thus parties must be certain to include in the record appendix any portions of the record relevant to the appeal.

Rule 20
Parties will now be permitted to limit the length of their briefs either by page number with monospaced font or word count with proportionally spaced font. The principal brief for both appellant and appellee cannot be more than 50 pages with monospaced font or 11,000 words with proportionally spaced font. However, if the appellee is also cross-appealing, then the appellees' brief can be 60 pages with monospaced font or 13,000 words proportionally spaced. This longer brief is permitted because the appellee needs to both put forth their own arguments in the cross-appeal and respond to appellant's arguments. If a party chooses to use proportionally spaced font, the font must be 14-point or larger with page margins 1 inch or larger and the party must include a certificate stating how compliance with the word limit was ascertained. These brief length options are designed to improve readability of the briefs, allow greater flexibility, and the save the parties the time and energy often expended in trying to conform brief formatting to page limits.

The amendments will be in effect starting on March 1, 2019. However, the Supreme Judicial Court encourages litigants to begin using the formatting changes prior to March 1, 2019. The modifications to timing, however, will not begin until March 1, 2019.

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