If you are unable to resolve a relatively small dispute you may
wish to use Small Claims Court. This quick forum is designed to
settle disputes of $2,000 or less without the
aid of an attorney. An exception to the $2,000 maximum is
made for property damage caused by a motor vehicle. The person bringing
the suit has the option to file suit in the District court where
either the Plaintiff or Defendant lives or has her/his place of
business or employment. To file suit, obtain the appropriate form,
called the Statement of Claim and Notice, from the Small Claims
Clerk in your district.
If an action is one for which double or treble (triple) damages
are permitted by law, the limit may be increased to $4,000 for double
damages and $6,000 for treble (triple) damages. The law also provides
for double or treble damages plus costs and attorney fees in certain
landlord/tenant situations and actions brought under Chapter 93A.
SMALL CLAIMS COURT FUNCTIONS
The atmosphere of Small Claims Court is informal, and the rules
of the Court are simple. You can sue or be sued in this Court without
being represented by a lawyer, because the more formal procedures
characteristic of other courts are not required. Instead, you are
allowed to present you own evidence and speak in laypersons
By choosing a Small Claims Court, you waive all right to a jury
trial. Furthermore, it is only in very specific instances that you
have the right to appeal to a higher court if the Clerk does not
find in your favor. Defendants, however, always have the right to
If the other party has a lawyer, you are not necessarily at a disadvantage
because you are representing yourself. The participation by lawyers
representing parties may be limited in a manner consistent with
the simple and informal adjudication of the controversy. It is the
Clerks duty to ensure all parties a fair hearing.
SELECTING THE APPROPRIATE COURT
Small Claims sessions are conducted in every Massachusetts District
Court, the Boston Municipal Court, the Hampden County Housing Court,
the Worcester Housing Court, and the Boston Housing Court. Each
District Court is formally identified by its county name and by
a district number or region within the county. Each District Court
is also informally identified by the name of the city or town where
it is located. (See the Directory of Small Claims Courts at the
end of this publication). A list of courts is located at the bottom
of this document.
The Plaintiff (the person bringing the suit) has the option to
file suit in the District court where either the Plaintiff or Defendant
lives or has her/his place of business or employment. In landlord-tenant
disputes, the Plaintiff could sue in the district where the property
FILING YOUR CLAIM
To file suit, obtain the appropriate form, called the Statement
of Claim and Notice, from the Small Claims Clerk in your district.
Fill out the form completely and accurately.
You must furnish the precise legal name and address of the party
you are suing. For example, S & J Construction, Inc. You may
sue any individual, business, partnership, or corporation. The legal
name of a business which is not a corporation may be determined
by contacting the clerk in the city or town hall and requesting
business certificate information. The legal name of a corporation
can be obtained from the Secretary of State Corporations Division
by calling 617-727-2850.
Your claim may be filed in person or by mail. However, when the
papers are sent by mail to the clerk, the action is not commenced
until the papers are actually received.
The Clerk will provide a copy of your completed Statement of Claim
and Notice form, which will show the date and time of trial. You
will also receive a Docket Number, or reference number for your
suit. Use this number to identify your case when you contact the
The Clerk then will promptly send to the Defendant by certified
mail, return receipt requested, and also by separate first class
mail, at the address or addresses supplied by you, a copy of the
Statement of Claim and Notice form. Such certified mail notice of
the claim is sufficient, even if it is returned unclaimed or refused
by the Defendants, as long as the first class mail notice is NOT
returned to the court undelivered. The court may provide for any
other means of service in individual cases as is deemed necessary.
PREPARING FOR TRIAL
A week before the hearing, call the Clerk to ensure that the Defendant
has received the Statement of Claim and Notice. The Clerk will inform
you if the case was postponed, or if the Defendant has filed an
answer. Obtain a copy and use the Defendants answer to prepare
your case more effectively.
To refresh your memory, prepare a chronological summary of events
and relevant facts to facilitate your presentation. Pull together
all the evidence that will help you prove your case, such as contracts,
letters, canceled checks, receipts, leases, estimates, and the actual
damaged goods or photographs. Bring certified copies of the applicable
Attorney Generals regulations if you are citing a specific
violation. These are available at the State Bookstore, State House,
Room 116, Boston MA 02133, telephone: 617-727-2834.
If you are suing under the Consumer Protection Act, Chapter 93A,
notify the Clerk of that fact and that you are entitled to double
or treble damages under that statute. Bring a copy of your 30 day
You may also wish to schedule witnesses who can verify your claims
or confirm your statements. If a witness refuses to participate,
the clerk can help subpoena him or her. A subpoena is a court notice
ordering a witness to appear in court on a trial date.
Arrive at the Court House at least an hour before your case is
heard. When your case is called, you, the Defendant, and any witnesses
must be sworn in. Then, the Clerk will hear each side of the case
allowing each side to develop the story with evidence and witness
participation. The Plaintiff or person suing, presents the case
first. The presentation should be brief, well-organized and emotionally
controlled. Then, the Defendant, or person being sued presents his
or her version of the case. Always speak directly to the Clerk.
Dont argue with the Defendant in Court, or interrupt his or
If the Defendant defaults, or does not show up, and you appear
for trial, you automatically win. However, you must show the Court
proof of your claim. (If the Defendant appears for the trial and
the Plaintiff fails to appear, the case will be dismissed. If neither
Plaintiff nor Defendant appears for trial, the claim must also be
OPTIONS FOR THE DEFENDANT
Settle: The parties may come to an agreement to settle out of court
even after the suit has started. The agreement must be in writing.
Notify the Court of settlement by providing a copy to the Clerk.
The original copy of this settlement, entitled Agreement for Judgment,
should be signed by both you and the Defendant and filed with the
Courts records, so that it may be enforced by law. Keep a
copy for your records.
Answer: The filing of an answer by the Defendant is optional. The
Defendant will be instructed that he or she may, if he or she wishes,
submit a written answer to the claim in the form of a letter to
the court, signed by him or her and setting out in clear and simple
language the reason(s) why the Plaintiff should not prevail.
Default: If the Defendant fails to appear at the trial, the Plaintiff
automatically wins. A Judgment and Order requiring payment of a
stated amount, remains valid for 20 years. A court will require
some type of showing by the Plaintiff that the claim is valid prior
to entry of judgment.
Counterclaim: A Counterclaim is a Defendants suit in reverse
against a Plaintiff. The counterclaim procedure is optional. If
you have a valid claim against a party suing you, notify the Clerk
that you wish to file a counterclaim. For example, if a repair shop
is suing you for repair costs, you might counterclaim for the cost
of repairing the part improperly installed. In the answer, or in
the course of the proceedings, the Defendant may set forth in writing
any claim which he has against the Plaintiff. No written answer
to the Defendants claim is required and both the Plaintiffs
and the Defendants claims are deemed one case. If the Plaintiff
wants more time to prepare for the counterclaim, he or she may ask
the court for a continuance. (See Continuances.) A counterclaim
must be filed with the Clerk at least two days prior to the hearing.
A nominal charge is collected for this filing.
Continuances: Where the Defendant has been given notice, trial
will not be continued to another date unless by agreement of the
parties with the approval of the court, or unless there is a showing
of good cause. Any motion for continuance must be in writing unless
the court permits an oral application.
DECISION OF THE COURT
After hearing the arguments of both parties, the Clerk
may make an immediate decision, or may require more time for deliberation,
which would leave the case Under Advisement and you would be notified
by mail of the final decision. Defendant to pay you the damages
and court entry fee. The Clerk may award you less than your original
The Defendant has the right to appeal the decision within 10 days.
The Defendant must pay an appeal fee and post $100 in cash or certified
check or bond, unless the Court waives this requirement.
COLLECTING YOUR MONEY
If the Defendant fails to pay you, then you must inform the Clerk
who will issue a Notice to Show Cause to you. You then must arrange
to have the notice delivered to the Defendant by a county Deputy
Sheriff or municipal Constable. The Notice to Show Cause will indicate
the date and time of hearing. At the hearing, the Court will take
appropriate action to recover payment.
Alternatively, you may ask the Clerk for an Execution form. This
form allows the county Deputy Sheriff or municipal Constable to
seize and sell the Defendants property to recover the amount
Within one year of the Courts decision, a party can apply
for relief from the judgment or order. This means that the Court
may decide to reverse the decision because of an error or other
reasons that the Court finds sufficient. Ask the Clerk if you have
any questions about this or other Small Claims Court procedures.
Because of the small amount in dispute our office does not represent
clients in small claims court nor do we counsel clients on this
informal type of case resolution.
If you have questions please do not call our office directly as
we cannot give individual advice to non clients over the telephone,
however you can click on the Massachusetts
Small Claims Court site for more info.