Appellate lawyers are constantly asked (and asking themselves) some variant of the same question: “How long until we get a decision?” The reality is that it’s hard to know. Nevertheless, most will, after being pressed, venture a guess based on their informed experience.
To supplement our informed experience, we conducted an analysis of twenty-one recent civil decisions issued by the Massachusetts Appeals Court since March 1, 2017, as well as another ten Supreme Judicial Court decisions issued during the same time period.
Based on our review, we determined that it took a median of 418 days to resolve an appeal in the Appeals Court from start (notice) to finish (judgment). The median time for a decision in the SJC was 315 days. The data shows a breakdown in the Appeals Court cases as follows:
- Less than 350 days: 2
- 350-400 days: 4
- 400-450 days: 8
- 451-550 days: 3
- More than 550 days: 4
These findings show that appellate litigants can expect that in most circumstances an appeal will last between 12 and 18 months, with the decision most likely to be issued 14 months after the appeal is filed.
We also determined that it took a median of 120 days for a decision following appellate argument in the Appeals Court. In the SJC, the median time was 118 days. The data shows a breakdown in the Appeals Court cases as follows:
- Less than 100 days: 5
- 100-125 days: 6
- 126-150 days: 4
- 151-200: 2
- More than 200 days: 4
These findings show that appellate litigants can expect that in most circumstances they will receive a decision between 3 and 5 months after appellate argument.
For bonus points, we looked at the same data to ascertain the answer to another question commonly asked by and to appellate attorneys: “What does it mean that the court has taken a long time to decide?” To answer this question, we calculated the time from appellate argument to affirmance versus the time from appellate argument to reversal.
We found that the median time from appellate argument to affirmance was 120 days. By contrast, the median time from appellate argument to reversal was 146.5 days, a difference of 26.5 days. Thus, the data arguably shows that the longer it takes for a decision to be issued the likelier it is that the decision will reverse the lower court.
These findings, of course, only represent probabilities, and would be enhanced by a larger sample size. Nevertheless, they provide helpful empirical data to supplement our informed experience when projecting how long an appeal will take and what it means when the appeal takes longer than expected.