Jurisdiction and venue as discussed below are complex legal concepts governed by laws that can have serious consequences for a lawsuit.  The following overview is intended only as a brief introduction to these concepts, and you should consult with an attorney about your specific case.  

Case Types

The types of criminal cases that may be filed in the Boston Municipal Court Department include most felonies and misdemeanors that do not require a state prison sentence, as well as felonies punishable by a sentence of up to 5 years.  

The types of civil cases that may be filed in the Boston Municipal Court Department include contract and tort actions in which the likely recovery does not exceed $25,000; small claims cases in which the likely recovery does not exceed $7,000 and small claims jury appeals; summary process/eviction cases; supplementary process (collection on a judgment) cases; mental health matters; abuse prevention/restraining orders and harassment prevention orders; civil motor vehicle violations; and violations of certain city or town ordinances and by-laws.

The Boston Municipal Court Department also has jurisdiction to review some government agency actions, such as unemployment compensation appeals and firearms license appeals.

Territorial Jurisdiction (judicial districts)

The Boston Municipal Court Department consists of eight court divisions that cover the following locations/communities:

  • Brighton covers Brighton and Allston.
  • Central covers the Downtown Boston area, Chinatown, North End, West End, South End through Massachusetts Avenue, Beacon Hill.
  • Charlestown covers Charlestown.
  • Dorchester covers Dorchester.
  • East Boston covers East Boston, Winthrop, Logan Airport, Sumner & Callahan Tunnels.
  • Roxbury covers Roxbury.
  • South Boston covers South Boston.
  • West Roxbury covers West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, Parts of Mission Hill, Parts of Mattapan.

Civil Jurisdiction/Venue

A civil lawsuit (as opposed to a criminal case) can be filed or started in court by a person, an organization such as a company, or a government agency, against another person, organization or government agency.  The word “person” used in this topic includes all these other possibilities.  

When a plaintiff (the person who is suing) files a civil lawsuit seeking money damages against a defendant (the person being sued), it is necessary that the court have personal jurisdiction (authority) over the defendant.  Generally, any person who resides in Massachusetts, or any organization that is established under Massachusetts laws or that maintains a principal place of business in Massachusetts, may be sued in Massachusetts.  See Mass. General Laws chapter 223A, § 2 .   In certain circumstances, the court divisions of the Boston Municipal Court Department may also have personal jurisdiction over a defendant who lives or works outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as set forth in the long arm statute ( Mass. General Laws chapter 223A, §§ 1 through 11 ). 

In addition to ensuring personal jurisdiction over the defendant, it is also important for a plaintiff to consider which local court is the proper venue (location).  In general, a civil lawsuit seeking money damages may be filed in the local court that covers the specific location/community where any party (plaintiff or defendant) lives or has a usual place of business, as well as in a court in an adjacent judicial district.  See Mass. General Laws chapter 223, § 2 .  In addition, a separate law provides that a civil lawsuit seeking money damages may be filed in the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department if one or more of the defendants lives or has a usual place of business in Suffolk County, excluding Chelsea and Revere.  See Mass. General Laws chapter 218, § 54