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Massachusetts District Court Standing Order 1-88: Civil Caseflow Management

(Applicable to all divisions)
(Superseded by Joint Standing Order 1-04 for Cases Filed On or After August 31, 2004)


I. Authority.

This Order is promulgated by the Chief Justice of the District Court pursuant to his statutory responsibility over caseflow management, G.L. c. 211B, s. 10, and uniform practices, G.L. c. 218, s. 43A.

II. Purpose.

The purpose of this Order is to establish procedures and principles to meet the requirements of the time standards for civil cases adopted by the Supreme Judicial Court on April 7, 1986. Said standards provide that civil cases filed on or after July 1, 1988, (other than family law cases) be disposed within 24 months of filing.

III. General.

A. Background. Recent research on Superior Court civil filings confirms and underscores what is already known intuitively by those familiar with civil case management generally, namely, that most civil cases are resolved without trial. See Dispute Resolution in Massachusetts, Governor's Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group, November 1986, wherein it is observed that, of 1,122 randomly selected civil cases disposed, 97% were disposed by some means short of trial and 50% were disposed within 15 months. The same report points out that "complex cases were the exception rather than the rule," "few cases involved significant discovery activity, notices of deposition, motions requiring court action, or pretrial conferences," and "most cases contained no discovery of any kind." Although these observations pertain to Superior Court cases, experience suggests that the same or similar conclusions would be reached in the District Court.

B. Objective. Based on the above findings, the objective of an effective caseflow management system should be to dispose as promptly as possible of the vast majority of cases that are not destined for trial, and concentrate the court's resources on the processing and trial of the rest.

C. "Local Legal Culture". It is well established that the pace of litigation is largely the product of the "local legal culture", the established expectations, practices and informal rules of behavior shared by judges and attorneys. Managing to Reduce Delay, National Center for State Courts, 1980. Courts can impact the problem of delay only to the extent that the local legal culture is changed. This Order strives to change this culture for the better where necessary.

D. Responsibility for Caseflow Management. The responsibility for effective caseflow management is shared by the bar and the court. This Order provides for the completion of case preparation by counsel within one year, and meaningful control of the case by the court thereafter.

E. Case Priorities. While addressing the importance of effective civil caseflow management as a means of meeting the civil time standards, this Order acknowledges the necessary priority that the hearing of cases involving the public safety, persons at risk, family disruption and other important public interests must take over general civil matters.

F. Resources. There is a well recognized deficiency in the availability of judicial resources and support staff in the District Court. Most entries have increased dramatically over the ten years from 1976 to 1986, as the following figures indicate.

As well, during this period there have been approximately 13 major increases in District Court jurisdiction, and over 20 major changes in various aspects of District Court procedure that have affected the complexity and pace of proceedings.

However, the number of District Court judges necessary to efficiently handle the business of the court has not kept up with the increased caseloads. While the number of judges in other departments of the Trial Court has increased (Juvenile Court, 42%; Probate Court, 37%; Superior Court, 33%; Housing Court, 33%; Boston Municipal Court, 22%), the number of District Court judges has decreased by 6%, from 163 to 153. The number of support personnel has likewise not kept pace with the increase in business.

The result of these deficiencies is that, for any policy of improved civil caseflow management to be accommodated by a very busy District Court system, it must be as self-executing as possible.

IV. Required Procedures. It is hereby ORDERED as follows:

A. Applicability. The following procedures shall apply to both regular civil tort and contract actions originally filed in the District Court pursuant to G.L. c. 218, s. 19, and civil cases transferred to the District Court pursuant to G.L. c. 231, s. 102C. All said cases shall hereinafter be referred to as "civil cases."

B. Procedures Applicable to Civil Cases Filed Prior to July 1, 1988.

1. Docket Review. No later than December 31, 1988, each District Court shall have completed a review of the civil docket of the court. Said review shall consist of placing all pending civil cases filed on or after January 1, 1985, and before July 1, 1988, on a civil docket review list and calling said list on one or more days. Notice of said scheduled call of the list shall be provided to counsel of record. For purposes of this Standing Order, the filing date of a case transferred to the District Court pursuant to G.L. c. 231, s. 102C shall be the date it was received in the District Court.

Counsel shall be required to attend said calls of the list in all cases not theretofore disposed with finality. Cases not disposed with finality as a result of said calls of the list shall be promptly scheduled for trial by the court, in the order filed, the scheduled trial dates to be no later than June 30, 1989.

2. Semi-Annual Use of Rule 41(b)(1). Each court shall employ the procedures set forth in Rule 41(b)(1) of the Dist./Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P. during January and July of 1989 and January and July of each succeeding year, as necessary, so as to dismiss or schedule for trial all pending civil actions filed prior to January 1, 1985. Said Rule 41 procedures shall be applied to as many such cases each January and July as is feasible. Said application of Rule 41(b)(1) procedures shall continue until all civil actions filed prior to January 1, 1985 have been disposed.

C. Procedures Applicable to Civil Cases Filed On and After July 1, 1988. The following procedures shall apply to civil cases filed on and after July 1, 1988. For purposes of this Order, the filing date of a case transferred to the District Court pursuant to G.L. c. 231, s. 102C shall be the date it is received in the District Court.

1. Pretrial Procedures. It shall be the responsibility of counsel to complete service and the preparation of his or her case by the end of the twelfth full month after filing. To that end, and except as otherwise provided below, all discovery shall be completed and all motions, including in that term motions pursuant to Rules 12, 15, 19, 20 and 56 of the Dist./Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P., all discovery motions and such other motions as are prescribed by the court, shall be filed and caused to be heard by the end of the twelfth full month after filing, notwithstanding any provision to the contrary in the Dist./Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P. Motions that are filed after said twelfth full month shall be denied by the court, or allowed only upon the payment of reasonable costs, if the court is satisfied that any said motion could reasonably have been made within said twelve month period.

2. Request for Trial. In cases not otherwise disposed, counsel shall file with the court a Request for Trial, seeking the establishment of a trial date, said request to be filed no earlier than the first day of the tenth full month and no later than the last day of the twelfth full month after the case was filed, unless the Presiding Justice of the court allows an earlier filing in an individual case. The provisions of Rules 10 and 11 of the Dist./Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P. applicable to captions, signing and other matters of form of pleadings shall apply to the Request for Trial, and said Request for Trial shall be served and filed in accordance with the provisions of Rule 5 of said rules.

3. Absence of Request for Trial. Any case not previously disposed, and in which a Request for Trial has not been filed in accordance with this Order shall be dismissed by operation of this Order without prejudice. The Clerk-Magistrate shall enter judgment on such dismissal in accordance with Rule 79 of the Dist./Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P. on the first day of the thirteenth month after filing or as soon thereafter as is practicable. Notice of entry of judgment shall be sent immediately by the Clerk-Magistrate in accordance with the provisions of Rule 77(d) of the Dist./Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P. Motions for relief from such judgment of dismissal shall not be favored, and shall be allowed only upon payment of reasonable costs, provided however that such motions shall be otherwise governed by the provisions of Rule 60 of the Dist/Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P.

4. Scheduling of Trials. The scheduling of trials shall be under the control of the court, and shall proceed as follows:

a. All trial dates shall be set by the court, consistent with the provisions of Rule 108 of the Dist./Mun. Cts. Supp. R. Civ. P. Trial dates shall be set promptly after the expiration of the twelfth full month after filing, and a case shall be set for trial on a date no later than the last day of the eighteenth full month after filing. Cases shall be scheduled for trial in the order in which they are filed.

b. Requests for continuance shall be only by written motion, and every such motion shall contain a certification that counsel has sent a copy of the motion to his or her client by first class mail.

c. Continuances shall not be favored. Continuances shall be granted only by the Presiding Justice of the court, or, in his or her absence, by a judge so authorized by the Presiding Justice. No continuance shall be entered by agreement or allowed by any other officer or employee of the court.

d. Every continuance shall be to a date certain. No case shall be continued generally or "taken off the list" for any reason.

e. The Regional Administrative Judge may require that motions for continuance in any case or any group or category of cases be referred to him for decision.

f. Cases shall be scheduled for trial at all practicable times during the week, and shall not necessarily be restricted to one or more specified days. Cases shall be scheduled for trial in such numbers and at such times throughout the day as facilitates their actual hearing and prompt completion, considering the judicial resources available. All day-long civil sessions shall begin at 9:00 a.m.

g. Pre-trial conferences shall be held if, and shall be conducted as, the court requires, in accordance with Rule 16 of the Dist./Mun. Cts. R. Civ. P.

h. In the event of counsel's stated unavailability due to a conflict caused by being scheduled in two Courts at the same time, his or her engagement in the court wherein he or she was first scheduled for a date certain shall take precedence.

5. Management.

a. The Presiding Justice, in consultation with the Clerk-Magistrate, shall designate an Assistant Clerk, or, if the court is not authorized an Assistant Clerk, the Clerk-Magistrate or other court employee, as civil case manager to assume responsibility for carrying out the relevant terms of this Order under the immediate supervision of the Clerk-Magistrate and the ultimate supervision of the Presiding Justice, and to perform such other related duties as required.

b. Civil caseflow management and the implementation of the terms of this Order shall be included each month on the agenda of the management meetings required by Administrative Regulation No. 1-87, section C (Bulletin No. 2-87, Transmittal No. 189, April 8, 1987).

c. The court shall maintain and submit such management information pertaining to civil case-flow management as the Chief Justice of the District Court may from time to time prescribe.

Adopted May 23, 1988, effective July 1, 1988.