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I am litigating a matter and found a court rule that conflicts…

I am litigating a matter and found a court rule that conflicts with a statute, which one controls and what should I do?

25 June 2024

Answer: When there is an irreconcilable conflict, the statute controls.

It happens more than you would think in the law, two different legal authorities conflict and you are left to decide which to follow.  With decisional authorities (case law), it is much easier to address as there is a hierarchy of judicial decisions and a well beaten path of how to analyze the situation.  But what to do when a statute or court rule (or another type of rule) conflicts in a procedural matter?  And the author can tell you that an added difficulty occurs when entities, especially clerks of courts, follow one over the other, usually the court rule over the statute.  Not following procedure can be devastating to legal rights and having conflict in this area can cause many gray hairs.

Well, there is an answer; in Hermanson v. Szafarowicz the Supreme Judicial Court found an irreconcilable conflict between rule 54(c) of the rules of civil procedure and section 13B of chapter 231 of the Massachusetts General Laws.  457 Mass. 39, 45 (2010).  With the rule arguably allowing for an amount to be stated in a complaint and an award based on same, but the statute prohibiting this.  Id.  The court found “[w]here there is such an irreconcilable conflict between a court rule and a statute, the statute supersedes the rule.” Id.

Similarly, in Police Dep’t of Salem v. Sullivan, the Supreme Judicial Court recognized that section 74 of chapter 27 of the Massachusetts General Laws was in conflict with Rule VII(b)(3) of the Trial Court Rules, Uniform Rule on Civil Motor Vehicle Infractions.  460 Mass. 637, 641 fn. 7 (2011).  The court in Sullivan reiterated that “the statute supersedes the rule.”  Id.

While the law on this is clear, this is not to say you will not have to assert, and even incur legal risk, your position to follow a statute over a court rule.  In fact, you should expect to do so.

One would think that it simply shouldn’t happen that someone drafting a rule would do so in a way to conflict with a statute and one should not be in the position of having to deal with such ambiguity, but that is why they call it the practice of law and not the science of law.

In the event you find yourself in a similar situation, feel free to contact the author to see what his office could offer you in terms of a possible representation.