If you sued the other party and lost and the magistrate did not award you any money, that decision is final. You may not appeal from the magistrate’s decision against you.
If you were sued by the other party and lost and the magistrate ordered you to pay money to the other party, you must do one of the following four things:
A. Pay the judgment in full within the time ordered
You must pay the full amount of the judgment if you are financially able to do so. You are not required to pay the judgment from income that is exempt by law. If you do not pay the amount as ordered and you are able to do so, you may be held in contempt of court and imprisoned or assessed additional costs. Pay the full amount directly to the other party (the "Judgment Creditor") unless the magistrate has ordered otherwise. The Judgment Creditor must notify the court in writing within 10 days after the judgment has been paid in full. You may wish to be sure that this is done in order to protect your credit record. If the Judgment Creditor refuses to do this, you may ask the court to enter such a determination on the case docket. If the magistrate ordered you to turn over property to the Judgment Creditor, you must do so.
B. Ask the magistrate to set a payment plan
If the magistrate has scheduled a payment hearing, at that hearing you may ask the magistrate to order a payment plan you can afford, or to determine that you are unable to pay anything right now. If you are requesting a payment plan or a payment delay, obtain a Financial Statement of Judgment Debtor form, fill it out and bring it with you to the hearing, along with any documentation you have regarding your financial status (tax return, salary stub, etc.).
Certain income is exempt from any payment order by the court. See a list of exempt income for more information. If your income is from any of these sources, you should bring some evidence of that to the payment review hearing. It is possible that a person who has exempt income may also receive wages from employment which could be subject to a payment order. Even if a person is currently unable to pay, a judgment is enforceable for 20 years if that person’s financial condition improves during that time.
If the magistrate has not scheduled a payment hearing and you want to request a payment plan or a delay in payment, or all of your income is from exempt sources, ask the clerk’s office to schedule your request for hearing before a magistrate — do not wait until you are required to come to court or you will be liable for additional costs.
The Judgment Creditor may not obtain a Writ of Execution to seize and sell your property until after the initial payment hearing (or if no payment hearing is scheduled, until 30 days after the judgment). After that, the Judgment Creditor may do so, even if you are making periodic payments, unless you both agree that he or she will not do so while you are making payments. Many of a person’s assets may be seized and sold to satisfy a judgment even if that person has exempt income.
C. Appeal to a judge or a jury
If you appeared at the trial before the magistrate and you disagree with the magistrate’s decision on the other party’s claim, you may appeal for another trial by either a judge or a jury. To do so, within 10 days after you receive written notice of the magistrate’s decision you must file with the clerk’s office your "Defendant’s Claim of Appeal" form (available here and at the clerk’s office - if you use the online version of the "Defendant’s Claim of Appeal," please file four copies with the court), indicating whether you want a trial by a judge or before a jury, along with the $25 appeal fee (which is non-refundable) and a $100 appeal bond or deposit (which is refundable if you win on appeal, or is credited against what you owe if you lose on appeal). The appeal bond or deposit is larger if you are a landlord being sued for the return of a residential tenant’s security deposit. The appeal fee and bond may be reduced or waived if you are indigent. On appeal, the judge or jury will reach a new decision, but may take into account that the magistrate previously decided the claim against you.
If you did not appear at the trial before the magistrate (this is called a default), you may not appeal from the magistrate’s decision on the other party’s claim.
D. File a motion to vacate the judgment
Whether or not you appeared at the trial before the magistrate, you may ask the magistrate to vacate (cancel) the judgment if you have a good reason. Such a request must be made within one year unless it is based on not having received notice of the small claim. To make such a request, ask the clerk’s office to help you to file and schedule a "Motion to Vacate Judgment." Motion forms are available here and at the clerk’s office.
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?