Small Claims – General – Massachusetts
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Massachusetts, but it does contain basic and other information. This summary only discusses civil claims (property and money claims that may be filed in small claims court). Criminal charges are not discussed.
Definition – Small claims courts, also sometimes called “Peoples Court”, is a court of limited jurisdiction. Limited jurisdiction means only certain matters may be filed and heard by the small claims court. There is also a maximum claim amount limitation. Small claims court offer a quick, informal and inexpensive way of resolving many types of disputes you may have with particular individuals or companies.
Maximum Amount of Claim Small Claims Court may hear in Massachusetts: $7,000.00
Which Court hears small claims in Massachusetts? Small claims court is a division of the Massachusetts District Court. All claims in which the amount of the dispute is $7,000.00 or less are within the jurisdiction of the small claims court.
Who hears the claims in small claims court? The claim will be heard by a clerk.
Claims over which the Small Claims Court has Jurisdiction:
The small claims court in Massachusetts may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,000.00:
1. suit for money only
2. landlord/tenant issues
3. contract or tort
4. The above list is not exhaustive, but does contain most of the common claims. However, the following claims MAY NOT be heard in small claims court: libel, slander, professional malpractice, assigned claims, and punitive damages.
Who may file a claim in small claims court? An individual, partnership or corporation (or LLC) may file a claim against another individual(s), partnership or corporation (or LLC) in small claims court if jurisdiction exists to hear the claim and the amount of the claim or property involved does not exceed $7,000.00.
Must you be represented by an attorney? Usually, attorneys are not allowed to participate in the proceedings.
Things to do before you File a Claim: Get the facts straight so you can complete the forms correctly and answer any questions court personnel may need to know. Be sure to obtain the correct legal name of the defendant, correct address and place/address of employment. If the defendant is a Corporation or Limited Liability Company you would use the legal corporate or LLC name as the defendant. If the defendant is a Corporation or LLC, you may need to contact the secretary of state in your state and obtain the proper name and address to serve with a copy of the suit. This person is called a registered agent and is designated by the corporation to receive process or summons when the corporation is sued. Be sure to also contact the small claims court to determine the filing fee for filing the claim.
How to File the Claim: The plaintiff must file a Statement of Claim and Notice. The claim must be filed in person or by mail.
Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: The clerk will serve the defendant by certified mail, return receipt requested, and also by separate first class mail. The court may provide for other means of service as necessary.
Return of Summons: The sheriff, constable, or other process server shall, after effecting service, must endorse that fact on a copy of the summons and return it to the court clerk who will make the appropriate entry on the docket sheet of the action.
Removal to another Court: A lawsuit will be removed from small claims court if the amount in controversy exceeds $7,000.00.
How are hearings scheduled? The clerk of the court will provide you with the procedure to set the case for trial or hearing at the time you file your claim.
Subpoena of Witnesses: If witnesses are required but unwilling to voluntarily attend unless they are subpoenaed, you may obtain a subpoena issued by the court clerk for service on the witness. The subpoena is an order for the witness to appear at the hearing and testify. Some employers may require that an employee be subpoenaed in order to be excused from work.
Trial Procedures: The trial procedure is generally informal than other courts although the formality will vary from county to county and judge to judge. The case will usually be called in open court and you will respond that you are present and ready to proceed. You will then be advised when to present your claim. Be prepared to present your claim in your own words. Be prepared to question witnesses if witnesses are needed.
What happens if the defendant does not appear at trial? Usually, if the defendant does not appear at trial, a default judgment will be entered in your favor for the amount of the claim or other relief.
Judgment: If the defendant fails to appear, or if the court rules for you after the hearing, a judgment will be entered by the court for the amount of the claim, or other relief sought.
Appeal: Defendants always have the right to appeal.
Collection of Judgment: If the losing party fails to pay, the clerk may issue a Notice to Show Cause. Alternatively, the winning party may also request an execution form.
Are Motions allowed? Motions are allowed by the parties on a limited basis.
Continuances: Where a defendant has given notice, a trial will not be continued to another date unless by agreement of the parties with the approval of the court.
Out-of-Court Settlement: If the parties decide to settle out of court, the court clerk must be notified. The settlement must also be in writing.
When Payment is Received: When the judgment has been satisfied, the receiving party must send written notice to the court that the judgment has been satisfied.
Cross-Claims, Counterclaims, and Third-Party Claims: A defendant may file a counterclaim against the plaintiff within 2 days prior to the hearing.
What happens if a defendant has filed bankruptcy? If the plaintiff has filed a claim against the defendant and the plaintiff is aware that the claim is listed as a debt in a bankruptcy proceeding, federal law prohibits the plaintiff from pursuing the claim in small claims court.
Common Forms used in Small Claims Court:
Return of Summons
Abstract of Judgment