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By: Rick Nahigian
In Siddharth v. Chaturvedi, Slip Op. (November 21,2022), the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a premature notice of appeal, i.e., one that is filed before the disposition of certain post-judgment motions, will bring the merits of an appeal before the appellate court as long as no action on the appeal is taken before the post-judgment motion is decided. This result seems at odds with Rules 4(a)(2) and 4(a)(3) of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure, which require a new notice of appeal to be filed following the disposition of certain post-judgment motions. The decision, however, is consistent with two earlier cases, a recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case, Roch v. Mollica, 481 Mass. 164, 165 n.2 (2019), and an Appeals Court case decided earlier this year, Tocci Building Corp. v. Iriv Partners, LLC, 101 Mass. App. Ct. 133, 136 n.5 (2022). While the subject matter of Siddharth is admittedly dry, the case, among other things, demonstrates why it is important to read footnotes.
In Siddharth, the Appeals Court relied on two footnotes, one in in Roch and one in Tocci, to reverse an order striking what the trial court considered to be a premature notice of appeal that the defendant filed before its motion for a new trial was decided. Had the Appeals Court not done so, the appellant would have been out of luck (and out of court) because it did not file a new notice appeal after the court denied its motion for a new trial. In reversing, the Appeals Court cited Rules 4(a)(2) and 4(a)(3) of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure. Rule 4(a)(2) identifies certain post-trial motions, including motions for a new trial. Rule 4(a)(3) provides that a notice of appeal filed before the disposition of the categories of motions listed in Rule 4(a)(2) has no effect, requiring that a new notice of appeal be filed. The Siddharth court, however, relied on the two footnotes in the Roch and Tocci cases (at least one of which, Tocci, was not available to the trial court) to conclude that even though notice was premature, the court was constrained to reinstate the appeal because no action had been taken on the appeal before the motion for a new trial was decided. In Roch, the court explained that the policy underlying Rule 4(a) is to prevent appeals from proceeding on a judgment which might eventually be altered. This policy concern is not implicated where no action on the premature appeal is taken before the trial court decides a post-judgment motion.
An interesting wrinkle to the case is that Siddharth dealt with a motion for a new trial, which is expressly one of the post-judgment motions addressed in Rule 4(a)(2). Both Roch and Tocci, however, involved motions for reconsideration. Rule 4(a)(2) is silent on the issue of motions for reconsideration. Or is it? The Rule applies to, among others, motions to alter or amend a judgment or for relief from judgment, “however titled,” but only if either motion is served within 10 days after entry of judgment. According to the Rules Reporter’s Notes, the words “however titled” were added by amendment in 2013 to emphasize that it is the substance of the motion, not its title, that triggers application of the Rule 4. The Rule would therefore apply to a motion for reconsideration, served within 10 days after entry of judgment, that essentially seeks to alter or amend a judgment or seeks relief from judgment.
This framework may contain a trap for the unwary. Although Rule 4(a)(2) does not expressly mention motions for reconsideration, Siddharth confirms that counsel who file them within 10 days after entry of judgment, along with a contemporaneous notice of appeal, should timely file a new notice of appeal after the motion is decided if any action had been taken on the notice of appeal while the motion for reconsideration was pending.