The small claims court is not a separate court, but a special session of the District Court, the Boston Municipal Court or the Housing Court. It is designed to provide a simple, informal and inexpensive option for resolving cases where the amount at issue is $7,000 or less. The information below is provided to assist those persons wishing to proceed in District Court.
Information in Other Languages
For information in languages other than English, see Multilingual Small Claims Forms, which provides information in seven languages in addition to English.
Small Claims Statute, Rules and Standards
The procedure for bringing a small claim action is contained in the Massachusetts General Laws and can be found at G.L. c. 218, §§ 21-25 . The Uniform Small Claims Rules govern small claims cases. The Small Claims Standards represent recommended practices for the small claims procedure. These standards are recommendations intended to implement the small claims statute
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I bring a small claims action?
- Where do I file a small claim?
- Which claims can be brought as small claims?
- May I bring a small claim based on the negligence of a public employee?
- Is there a time limit on when I must bring my small claim?
- Will I be able to collect from the defendant?
- What is the filing fee for a small claim?
- What information must I include in my claim?
- What are "costs"?
- Are there special requirements if this claim arose from my business?
- How is the defendant notified of this claim?
- Will my case go forward if the defendant has not received notice?
- Are attorneys needed in small claims court?
- Is the defendant required to file an answer?
- What if the defendant admits owing all the money?
- What if the defendant admits owing the money but needs time to pay?
- What if the defendant believes he owes nothing, or only some of the money claimed?
- What if the defendant believes the plaintiff owes him money?
- When and where do the plaintiff and the defendant have to go to court?
- Is mediation available for small claims?
- What if I cannot come to court on the trial date?
- What if I do not come to court on the trial date?
- How should I prepare for trial?
- What will happen on the day of the trial?
- What if one of the parties wants a continuance?
- What will the magistrate do?
- I lost my case before the magistrate. What can I do?
- I won my case before the magistrate. What can I do?
- Must I appear at the payment review hearing?
- Is any income exempt from a payment order?
- If I win my case, must I notify the court when I have been paid?
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:
By filing a court form called a "Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial" and paying a filing fee. The form is available in the clerk's office of any of the 62 district courts. Instructions on completing a "Statement of Small Claim and Notice of Trial" form can be found here. For a listing of District Court locations by county click here. The person or business filing the claim is called the “plaintiff.” The person or business being sued is called the “defendant."
You may bring a small claim only in the court for the location where either the plaintiff or the defendant lives or has a place of business or employment. A small claim against a landlord arising from the rental of an apartment may also be brought where the apartment is located. You may find it easier to enforce a decision in your favor if you bring your small claim where the defendant lives or works, but you are not required to do so.
Unless your claim is based upon property damage sustained in an automobile accident, it cannot exceed $7,000.00. The claim may, however, be subject to statutory damages or attorney’s fees in excess of $7,000.00 (e.g., consumer protection cases or certain landlord/tenant cases). In those cases, the base amount may not exceed $7,000.00 even though the potential award may exceed that amount.
Generally not. Most claims for money damages against the Commonwealth, a state agency or authority, or a city or town that are based on the negligence or intentional wrongdoing of a public official or employee must be brought under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Massachusetts General Laws chapter 258 . Claims under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act must be filed in the Superior Court and cannot be brought as small claims in the District Court.
You may bring as a small claim in the District Court a claim that is based on a government contract, a claim against a housing authority, or a claim authorized by some other statute such as the “pothole law,” Massachusetts General Laws chapter 84, section 15 for municipal roads or chapter 81, section 18 for state roads.
Yes. The time limit (called the “statute of limitations”) varies with the nature of the claim and applies both to small claims and to regular civil law suits. Generally, a claim based on a contract or a consumer protection law must be brought within 6 years, and a claim resulting from negligence or intentional harm must be brought within 3 years, but there are exceptions. Consult Massachusetts General Laws chapter 260 , a public or law library or an attorney for additional information.
If you win, the defendant will be ordered to pay the judgment if he or she is financially able to do so. If the defendant is able to pay and does not do so, he or she may be held in contempt of court and imprisoned or assessed additional costs. Note that some sources of income and a portion of any wages will be exempt from any payment order. For more information see a list of exempt income below.
The filing fee for small claims of $500 and under is $40. The filing fee for claims of $501 to $2000 is $50. The filing fee for claims of $2001 to $5000 is $100. The filing fee for claims of $5001 to $7000 is $150. The filing fee for claims of property damage of more than $7000 arising from an automobile accident is $150.
Fill in the “Statement of Small Claim” form with the amount you are suing for and briefly explain your claim. State your claim simply but clearly so that the defendant can understand why he or she is being sued. You must state specifically any amounts sought for damages, for multiple damages or statutory penalties, for attorney’s fees, or for costs, as well as the total amount being sought, exclusive of any prejudgment interest being sought from the court pursuant to statute.
It is essential that you have the defendant’s correct name and mailing address. If you are suing a business that is not a corporation, you should name as the defendant the owner(s) doing business (“d/b/a”) under that trade name. You may obtain their names from the City or Town Clerk where the business is located. If you are suing a business that is a corporation, you must have its exact legal name. You can find this information from the Corporate Records Division of the Secretary of State’s Office, One Ashburton Place, Room 1712, Boston, MA 02108.
In the “MILITARY AFFIDAVIT” portion, you must indicate whether or not the defendant is on active military duty. If you know the defendant’s social security number, you may determine whether he or she is on active military duty online at the SCRA Website (Note: See information below re: security certificate); otherwise, you must write to the appropriate military service headquarters (listed at the Department of Defense SCRA Certificates page). If you are unable to determine whether the defendant is on active military duty and the defendant fails to appear, the court may require you to post a bond or may issue other orders to protect the rights of the defendant if he or she is on active military duty.
You may see a warning re: the SCRA site's security certificate. This is an explanation from this Department of Defense site: "All internet communications between your computer and the DMDC SCRA website are encrypted using SSL standards set by the Department of Defense. Under normal circumstances, web pages are automatically encrypted using a DoD certificate public key, in order to send Privacy Act data in an encrypted form across the Internet. If the certificate is not installed on your computer, you may experience security alerts from your browser...Most web browsers don't come with the DoD certificates already installed. The best and most secure solution is for the user to install all of the DoD's public certificates in their web browser."
If the plaintiff prevails, or if both sides settle the claim, the plaintiff may recover from the defendant as "costs" the court filing fee. By court order the plaintiff may sometimes recover certain other costs of bringing the claim.
Yes. If your claim arose in the course of your trade or commerce, or you are pursuing a claim for assigned debt, you must also include in your “Statement of Small Claim” form: (1) the original creditor’s name (if different from yours), (2) only the last four digits of any account number assigned by the original creditor, and (3) the amount and date of the last payment, if any. If you do not do so and the defendant fails to appear, you may not be able to obtain a default judgment in your favor and your claim will be dismissed, though you may refile it.
You must also file a separate “Verification of Defendant’s Address” form (available here ) with your claim, certifying that you have verified the defendant’s mailing address in the manner set forth in that form. If you do not do so and the defendant fails to appear, usually you may not obtain a default judgment in your favor and your claim will be dismissed, but it may be refiled.
“Trade” and “commerce” have the same meaning as in the Consumer Protection Act, Massachusetts General Laws c. 93A, §§ 1 . They include most commercial relationships between sellers or service providers and consumers in a business context, but not isolated private commercial transactions. They do not include leasing or renting residential property of three or fewer units that you own and that is also your primary residence unless you also own, manage or are otherwise involved in leasing or renting other residential property.
The defendant is sent a copy of the "Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial" by first class mail. If the defendant lives out of state he or she will be notified by certified mail. Both types of notices will be provided by the court, after the "Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial" form is filed.
If the Post Office is unable to notify ("serve") the defendant and the letter is returned to the court your case cannot go forward. If the letter is not returned, but is later shown to have never been delivered, or to have been sent to the wrong address, any judgment you have received may be vacated. For this reason it is crucial that you make sure that the mailing address entered for the defendant on the "Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial" form is accurate.
No, but you may hire one if you wish.
The defendant may file with the court a form called Small Claims Answer or send a signed letter to the court, saying clearly and simply why the plaintiff should not win. This "answer" should state those specific parts of the claim that are denied. However, the defendant is not required to file an answer. The defendant must send the plaintiff a copy of the answer, if one is filed.
In the signed letter answer, or in a separate letter to the court, or on a form called Small Claims Counterclaim , the defendant may set forth in writing any claim against the plaintiff within the jurisdiction of small claims court. (This is called a counterclaim.) Both claims will be treated as one case if the defendant mails a copy of his or her claim to the plaintiff at least ten days before the scheduled trial date, or if the magistrate orders that they be so treated. Such counterclaims are not required. The plaintiff need not file a written answer to the defendant's counterclaim.
He or she should contact the plaintiff and arrange to make payment. The defendant is not required to make any payments from exempt income (see below). If full payment is not made before the trial date, both the plaintiff and defendant must appear in court on the trial date unless they submit to the court before the trial date an Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order signed by both parties. The court will accept an agreement between the parties only if it is submitted on the official “Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order” form. If the plaintiff and defendant reach an agreement only on the trial date, they should then submit to the court an “Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order” form signed by both parties.
He or she should contact the plaintiff and try to reach agreement for a payment schedule. The defendant is not required to make any payments from exempt income (see below). Both the plaintiff and defendant must appear in court on the trial date unless they submit to the court before the trial date an Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order signed by both parties. The court will accept an agreement between the parties only if it is submitted on the official “Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order” form. If the plaintiff and defendant reach an agreement only on the trial date, they should then submit to the court an “Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order” form signed by both parties. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement for a payment schedule, the defendant must complete a Financial Statement of Judgment Debtor and explain to the magistrate his or her reasons for requesting time to pay.
He or she must appear in court on the trial date. He or she will be able to challenge how the plaintiff arrived at the amount claimed.
The defendant should indicate in his or her answer, or tell the court and then reduce to writing, why the plaintiff owes him or her money. The plaintiff's original claim and the defendant's claim against the plaintiff (called a "counterclaim") may be treated as one case and tried on the date the original claim was scheduled. If the defendant files a written counterclaim, the defendant must send the plaintiff a copy.
The defendant may set forth in writing any counterclaim against the plaintiff within the jurisdiction of small claims court. A counterclaim may be included in the written answer, if the defendant files one, or in a separate letter to the court. The magistrate may also permit a counterclaim to be made orally and subsequently reduced to writing. Both claims will be treated as one case if the defendant mails a copy of his or her claim to the plaintiff at least ten days before the scheduled trial date, or if the magistrate orders that they be so treated. Such counterclaims are not required. The plaintiff need not file a written answer to the defendant's counterclaim.
Unless the plaintiff and defendant settle the case before the trial date, both sides must appear in court on the date the case is scheduled for trial.
Mediation is available in many courts on the date of trial. When the case is called, if mediation is available you will be asked if you would like to mediate your claim.
You should call or write the person on the opposing side and ask him or her to agree to postpone ("continue") the case. Continuances should only be for good reason, such as illness, an emergency, or the unavailability of a witness. If both sides agree, or if the opposing side does not agree, or if you are unable to reach the person on the opposing side, you must write the Clerk-Magistrate of the court to ask that the court give you a continuance. Do not wait until the last minute. If the other side makes a reasonable request for a continuance, it may save you some inconvenience if you agree to the request.
If the plaintiff does not appear for trial, and the defendant does appear, the court will enter a judgment for the defendant. If both the plaintiff and the defendant do not appear for trial, the claim will be dismissed. If the defendant does not appear for trial, and the plaintiff does appear, the court will likely enter a default judgment and order the defendant to pay the amount claimed. The magistrate may ask the plaintiff to present some evidence of the claim, even if the defendant is not present.
It may be helpful to write down ahead of time the facts of the case in the order in which they happened. This will help you organize your thoughts and make a clear presentation of your story. On the trial date, you must bring with you any witnesses, checks, bills, papers, photographs or letters that will help you prove your case. If you are submitting documents as exhibits at trial, bring copies for the magistrate and for the defendant. If you need a witness to come to court but the witness will not come, ask the clerk- magistrate's office for a witness summons which you must then arrange to have a constable or deputy sheriff deliver to the witness. You may need an expert witness to prove any matter not within common experience. The laws governing small claims are the same as those for other lawsuits, except that simplified procedures are used. The plaintiff must prove that the claim is one which the law recognizes and that the defendant is liable, or the magistrate will enter a decision for the defendant.
Be sure to arrive on time. If your case is not resolved by a mediator, a trial will be held before a magistrate. The plaintiff will be asked to tell his or her side of the story, then the defendant will tell his or her side. Each will have an opportunity to ask questions of the other side and the other side's witnesses. To prevail, the law requires the plaintiff to prove the validity of his or her claim.
If both parties are present when the case is called, the case will go forward unless there is good cause for a continuance. If you are ready to go forward and the other party wants a continuance, make sure you inform the magistrate if you object.
The magistrate will make a decision. Notice of the decision (called a "judgment") will be given or sent to each side.
For detailed answer, click here.
For a detailed answer, click here.
If the successful plaintiff (the “Judgment Creditor”) informs the clerk-magistrate's office that the defendant (the “Judgment Debtor”) is in compliance with the magistrate’s payment order, then neither party is required to appear at the scheduled payment hearing.
If the Judgment Debtor is not in compliance with the magistrate’s payment order, then both parties must appear at the scheduled payment hearing. If the Judgment Debtor fails to appear, without further notice a magistrate may issue a civil arrest warrant (capias) for his or her arrest.
Income to the defendant from the following public assistance and benefit programs is exempt by law from any court small claims payment order:
- Unemployment Benefits (G.L. c. 151A, § 36)
- Workers Compensation Benefits (G.L. c. 152, § 47)
- Social Security Benefits (42 U.S.C. § 401)
- Federal Old-Age, Survivors & Disability Insurance Benefits (42 U.S.C. § 407)
- Supplementary Security Income (SSI) for Aged, Blind and Disabled (42 U.S.C. § 1381[a])
- Other Disability Insurance Benefits up to $400 weekly (G.L. c. 175, § 110A)
- Emergency Aid for Elderly & Disabled (now G.L. c. 117A)
- Veterans Benefits (G.L. c. 115, § 5 or 38 U.S.C. § 5301[a] or 42 U.S.C. § 1001)
- Medal of Honor Veterans Benefits (38 U.S.C. § 1562)
- Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Benefits (G.L. c. 118, § 10)
- Maternal Child Health Services Block Grant Benefits (42 U.S.C. § 701)
- Other public assistance benefits (G.L. c. 235, § 34, fifteenth)
In addition, a portion of wages or employment-based retirement payments is exempt from any payment order. The exempt amount is $400 or 85% of weekly disposable earnings, whichever is greater.
“Weekly disposable earnings” are gross wages, salary or employment-based periodic retirement payments, minus any deductions required by law (including withholding taxes, social security [fica], and mandatory public employee retirement contributions). The debtor may not deduct any voluntary deductions, union dues or garnishments.
The minimum Federal exemption is equal to the current Federal minimum wage ($7.25 as of 7/24/09) multiplied by 30, or $218 (15 U.S.C. §§ 1671-1677). Massachusetts law exempts the first $125 in weekly “wages then due . . . for labor performed or services rendered” (G.L. c. 224, § 16 & c. 246, § 28) but this is normally less than the Federal exemption.
Yes. You are required to notify the court in writing within 10 days after you collect the full amount of the court’s judgment. You need not use any particular form, but include the court’s docket number in your notice. You may use the Satisfaction of Judgment form (available here ) or the Satisfaction of Judgment on Counterclaim form (available here ) to notify the court.
Small Claims Resources
- Where Do I File a Small Claim?
- Small Claims in the Boston Municipal Court or District Court
- Small Claims in Housing Court
- Small Claims Forms
- Multilingual Videos Explaining the Small Claims Process
- I Won My Small Claim Before the Magistrate, What Can I Do Now?
- I Lost My Small Claim Before the Magistrate, What Can I Do Now?
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