The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently released its FY 2011 “Annual Report on the State of the Massachusetts Court System,” a copy of which is here (pdf). The report is chock full of information – some of it pretty depressing – about the current condition of our court system, which remains woefully underfunded. This lack of funding has resulted in a loss of over 1,000 trial court positions since 2007, employee furloughs, reductions in court hours, and several consolidations and closures.
On a brighter note, for us litigators the report includes some statistics that are interesting and potentially useful in advising our clients. We all know that most trial court decisions are affirmed on appeal, but crunching the numbers in the report’s section on appellate dispositions gives us the hard data behind that conventional wisdom. In FY2011, the Appeals Court affirmed the trial court decision in 78% of the civil appeals it decided. The civil reversal rate was 12%, with 10% of decisions categorized as “other result” (presumably split decisions and remands). We also learn that, of the total of 1,773 decisions the Appeals Court issued (civil and criminal), 86% were “unpublished” summary dispositions under the court’s Rule 1:28, while 14% were full, published opinions. Turning to the SJC itself, in FY2011 the high court considered 960 applications for further appellate review and granted just 5% of those, up slightly from FY2010. Applicants for direct appellate review fared much better, with about 40% of the total of 87 applications granted, down slightly from FY2010.
Now, when your client asks the inevitable question, “so, what are [our/their] chances on appeal?,” you have some empirical data to inform your response.