If you are unable to resolve your complaint through self-help or local consumer group mediation, you may wish to use the Small Claims Court. Known popularly as the people's court, this informal and inexpensive forum is designed to help you settle disputes of $7,000 or less without the aid of an attorney.

Unless your suit is based upon property damage sustained in an automobile accident, it cannot exceed $7,000. The claim may, however, be subject to statutory damages or attorney's fees in excess of $7,000 (e.g. consumer protection cases or certain landlord/tenant cases). In those cases, the base amount may not exceed $7,000 even though the potential award may exceed that amount.

What is the filing fee for a small claim?

The filing fee for small claims of $500 and under is $40. The filing fee for claims of $501 to $2,000 is $50. The filing fee for claims of $2,001 to $5,000 is $100. The filing fee for claims of $5,001 to $7,000 is $150. The filing fee for claims of property damage of more than $7,000 arising from an automobile accident is $150.

If your claim exceeds $7,000 you may wish to retain the services of an attorney and sue in another court.

Note: Should you decide to use Small Claims Court, you will be precluded from bringing the same claim to any other court.

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 your own evidence and speak in layperson's terms.

By choosing a Small Claims Court, you waive all rights 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 appeal.

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 Clerk's 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, and the Boston Housing Court. Each District Court is 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).

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 is located.

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, John & Jane Doe Construction, Inc. You may sue any individual, business, partnership, or corporation. The legal name of a business which is not corporation may be determined by contacting the clerk at 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, One Ashburton Place, 17th Floor, Boston MA 02108 or by telephoning 617-727-2850 or 617-727-9640 or online at www.sec.state.ma.us .

You can only sue for money in Small Claims Court. The amount of your claim should include both the actual dam-age done and any additional costs incurred due to the damage, such as taxi fares, postage, photocopying, and court costs.

At the time of the filing, you must pay a small court entry fee. This fee and any other court fees will be assessed against the Defendant if you win your case.

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 Clerk.

The Clerk then will promptly send to the Defendant by first class mail, at the address or addresses supplied by you, a copy of the Statement of Claim and Notice form. The court may provide for 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 Defendant's 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 General's 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 may be entitled to double or treble damages under that statute. Bring a copy of your 30 day demand letter. You may also wish to schedule witnesses prior to your court date 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.

The Trial

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 emotion-ally controlled. Then, the Defendant, or person being sued, presents his or her version of the case. Always speak directly to the Clerk. Don't argue with the Defendant in Court, or interrupt his or her presentation.

After the presentations, you and the Defendant may ask questions of each other. The Clerk may act as moderator, asking questions and encouraging discussion to develop all the facts in the case. If the Clerk decides that a party has set up a frivolous or misleading claim or answer, then the Clerk may award additional costs to the other party of up to $100.

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 dismissed.)

Options for the Defendant

Settle: The parties may come to an agreement to settle out of court even after the suit has started. The agree-mint 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 Court's 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 Defendant's 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 Defendant's claim is required and both the Plaintiff's and the Defendant's 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.

If the Clerk finds in favor of the Defendant, then the case will be over and you will receive no payments. You will not be required to pay the court costs for the Defendant. If the decision is for the Plaintiff, then the court will issue a Notice of Judgment and Order that orders the Defendant to pay you the damages and court entry fee. The Clerk may award you less than your original claim.

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 Con-stable. 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 Defendant's property to recover the amount owed.

Within one year of the Court's 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.

Sources of Help

For further information, contact the Small Claims Advisory Service, Phillips Brooks House, Harvard Yard, Cambridge, MA 02138: 617-497-5690 or on-line at: http://hcs.harvard.edu/~scas/.

 

County

Court

Suffolk County:

Boston Municipal Court

Edward W. Brooke Courthouse
24 New Chardon St.
Boston, 02114
(617)788-8411

Boston, all of Suffolk County

Boston Housing Court

Edward W. Brooke Courthouse
24 New Chardon Street
Boston, 02114
(617)788-8515

South Boston, West Roxbury

Boston Municipal Court, Brighton Division

52 Academy Hill Road
Brighton, 02135
(617)782-6521

Allston, Brighton

Boston Municipal Court, Charlestown Division Court House

3 City Square
Charlestown, 02129
(617)242-5400 X241

Charlestown

Chelsea District Court

120 Broadway
Chelsea, 02150
(617)660-9200

Chelsea, Revere

Boston Municipal Court, Dorchester Division

510 Washington Street
Dorchester, 02124
(617)288-9500

Dorchester

East Boston District Court
37 Meridian Street
East Boston, 02128
(617) 569-7550

East Boston, Winthrop

Roxbury District Court
85 Warren Street
Roxbury, 02119
(617) 427-7000

Roxbury

Trial Court of the Commonwealth-District Court Dept. South Boston Division
535 East Broadway
South Boston, 02127
(617) 268-8305

South Boston

Municipal Court of the West Roxbury District
445 Arborway
Jamaica Plain, 02130
(617) 971-1200

Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Readville, Roslindale, West Roxbury, *parts of Mission Hill, Mattapan sections of Boston

Middlesex County:

District Court Department of the Trial Court-Ayer Div.
25 East Main Street, Ayer, 01432
(978) 772-2100

Ashby, Ayer, Boxborough, Dunstable, Groton, Littleton, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend, Westford, Devens Regional Enterrise Zone

Cambridge District Court

4040 Mystic Valley Parkway
Medford, MA 02155
(781) 306-2710

Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge

Concord District Court

305 Walden Street
Concord, 01742-3616
(978)369-0500

Acton, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Maynard, Stow

Framingham District Court

600 Concord Street
P.O. Box 1969
Framingham, 01701
(508)875-7461

Ashland, Framingham, Holliston, Hopkinton, Sudbury, Wayland

Lowell District Court

41 Hurd Street
Lowell, 01852
(978)459-4101

Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro

Malden District Court

89 Summer Street
Malden, 02148
(781)322-7500

Everett, Malden, Melrose, Wakefield

Marlborough District Court

45 Williams Street
Marlborough, 01752
(508)485-3700

Hudson, Marlborough

Natick District Court

117 East Central Street
Natick, 01760
(508)653-8100

Natick, Sherborn

Newton District Court

1309 Washington Street
West Newton, 02465-2011
(617)244-3600

Newton

Somerville District Court

175 Fellsway
Somerville, 02145
(617)666-8000

Medford, Somerville

Waltham District Court

38 Linden Street
Waltham, 02452
(781)894-4500

Waltham, Watertown, Weston

Woburn District Court

30 Pleasant Street
Woburn 01801
(781)935-4000

Burlington, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham,Wilmington, Winchester, Woburn.

Norfolk County:

Brookline District Court
360 Washington Street
Brookline, 02146
(617) 232-4660

Brookline

Dedham District Court

631 High Street
Dedham, 02026
(781)329-4777

Dedham, Dover, Medfield, Needham, Norwood, Wellesley, Westwood

Quincy District Court

1 Dennis F. Ryan Parkway
Quincy, 02169
(617)471-1650

Braintree, Cohasset, Holbrook, Milton, Quincy, Randolph, Weymouth

Stoughton District Court

1288 Central Street
Stoughton, 02072
(781)344-2131

Avon, Canton, Sharon, Stoughton

Wrentham District Court

60 East Street
Wrentham, 02093
(508)384-3106 x261

Foxboro, Franklin, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, Plainville, Walpole, Wrentham

Essex County:

Gloucester District Court
197 Main Street
Gloucester, 01930
(978) 283-2620

Essex, Gloucester, Rockport

Haverhill District Court

PO Box 1389
James P. Ginty Blvd.
Haverhill, 01831
(978)373-4151 x125, x164, x165

Boxford, Bradford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill

Ipswich District Court (District Court of Newburyport)

188 State Street
Newburyport, 01950
(978)356-2681

Hamilton, Ipswich, Topsfield, Wenham

District Court of Lawrence
2 Appleton Street
Lawrence, 01840
(978) 687-7184

Andover, Lawrence, Methuen, North Andover

Lynn District Court
580 Essex Street
Lynn, 01901
(781) 598-5200

Lynn, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus, Swampscott

District Court of Newburyport
188 State Street
Newburyport, 01950
(978) 462-2652 x3034

Amesbury, Merrimack, Newbury, Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury, West Newbury

District Court of Peabody
1 Lowell Street
Peabody, 01960
(978) 532-3100

Lynnfield, Peabody

Salem District Court
65 Washington Street
Salem, MA 01970
(978) 744-1167

Beverly, Danvers, Manchester (Manchester-by-the-Sea), Middleton, Salem

Bristol County:

Attleboro District Court

88 North Main Street
Attleboro, 02703
(508)222-5900 X392

Attleboro, Mansfield, North Attleboro, Norton

Fall River District Court Second District Court

45 Rock Street
Fall River, 02720
(508)679-8161

Fall River, Freetown, Somerset, Swansea, Westport

New Bedford District Court
75 North Sixth Street
New Bedford, 02740
(508) 999-9700

Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Freetown, New Bedford, Westport

Taunton District Court

120 Cohannet Street
Taunton, 02780
(508)824-4032 & 4033

Berkley, Dighton, Easton, Raynham, Rehobeth, Seekonk, Taunton

Berkshire County:

District Court of Southern Berkshire
9 Gilmore Avenue
Great Barrington, 01230
(413) 528-3520

Alford, Becket, Egremont, Great Barrington, Lee Lenox, Monterey, Mount Washington, New Marlborough, Otis, Sandisfield, Sheffield, Stockbridge, Tyringham, West Stockbridge (*concurrent jurisdiction in Becket & Lenox)

Northern District Court

111 Holden Street
North Adams, 01247
(413)663-5339

Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, New Ashford, North Adams, Savoy, Williamstown, Windsor (*concurrent jurisdiction in Hancock & Windsor)

Pittsfield District Court

Central Berkshire District Court
24 Wendell Avenue
P.O. Box 875
Pittsfield, 01202
(413)499-0558 X7345

Becket, Dalton, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Lenox, Peru, Pittsfield, Richmond, Washington, Windsor (*concurrent jurisdiction in Becket, Hancock, Lenox, & Windsor)

 

Plymouth County:

Brockton District Court

P.O. Box 7610
215 Main Street
Brockton, 02303-7610
(508)587-8000

Abington, Bridgewater, Brockton, East Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, Whitman

Hingham District Court

28 George Washington Boulevard
Hingham, 02043
(781)749-7000

Hanover, Hingham, Hull, Norwell, Rockland, Scituate

Plymouth District Court

South Russell Street
Plymouth, 02360
(508)747-0500

Duxbury, Halifax, Hanson, Kingston, Marshfield, Pembroke, Plymouth, Plympton

Wareham District Court

2200 Cranberry Highway
West Wareham, 02576
(508)295-8300

Carver, Lakeville, Marion, Mattapoisett, Middleboro, Rochester, Wareham

Barnstable County:

Barnstable District Court

P. O. Box 427
Route 6A
Barnstable, 02630
(508)375-6787

Barnstable, Sandwich, Yarmouth

Falmouth District Court

161 Jones Road
Falmouth, 02540
(508)495-1500 X233

Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee

Orleans District Court

237 Rock Harbor Road
Orleans, 02653
(508)255-4700

Brewster, Chatham, Dennis, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans, Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet

 

Dukes County

Edgartown District Court

P. O. Box 1284
81 Main Street
Edgartown, 02539
(508)627-3751

Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, West Tisbury, Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head), Gosnold, Elizabeth Islands

Nantucket County:

Nantucket District Court

P. O. Box 1800
16 Broad Street
Nantucket, 02554
(508)228-0460

Nantucket

Worcester County:

Clinton District Court

300 Boylston Street
Clinton, 01510
(978)368-7811

Berlin, Bolton, Boylston, Clinton, Harvard, Lancaster, Sterling, West Boylston

Dudley District Court

P. O. Box 100
West Main Street
Dudley, 01571
(508)943-7123 x143

Charlton, Dudley, Oxford, Southbridge, Sturbridge, Webster

East Brookfield District Court

544 East Main Street
East Brookfield, 01515-1701
(508)885-6305 x109

Barre, Brookfield, East Brookfield, Hardwick, Leicester, New Braintree, North Brookfield, Oakham, Paxton, Rutland, Spencer, Warren, West Brookfield

Fitchburg District Court

100 Elm Street
Fitchburg, 01420
(978)345-2111

Fitchburg, Lunenburg

Gardner District Court

108 Matthews Street
Gardner, 01440-0040
(978)632-2373

Gardner, Hubbardston, Petersham, Westminster

Leominster District Court

25 School Street
Leominster, 01453
(978)537-3722

Holden, Leominster, Princeton

Milford District Court

P. O. Box 370
161 West Street
Milford, 01757
(508)473-1260

Bellingham, Hopedale, Mendon, Milford, Upton

Uxbridge District Court

P. O. Box 580
261 South Main Street
Uxbridge, 01569
(508)278-2454

Blackstone, Douglas, Millville, Northbridge, Sutton, Uxbridge

Westborough District Court

175 Milk Street
Westborough, 01581
(508)366-8266 x122

Grafton, Northborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Westborough

Winchendon District Court

80 Central Street
Winchendon, 01475
(978)297-0156

Ashburnham, Phillipston, Royalston, Templeton, Winchendon

Worcester District Court

50 Harvard Street
Worcester, 01608
(508)757-8350

Auburn, Millbury, Worcester

 

Franklin County:

District Court of Franklin
425 Main Street
Greenfield, 01301
(413) 774-5533

Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Gill, Greenfield, Hawley, Heath, Leverett, Leyden, Monroe, Montague, Northfield, Rowe, Shelburne, Shutesbury,
Sunderland, Whatley

District Court Department - Orange Division
1 Court Square
Orange, 01364
(978) 544-8277 X214

Athol, Erving, New Salem, Orange, Warwick, Wendell

Hampden County:

District Court of Chicopee
30 Church Street
Chicopee, 01020
(413) 598-0099

Chicopee

District Court of Palmer
235 Sykes Street
Suite 3
Palmer, 01069
(413) 283-8916

Brimfield, Hampden, Holland, Ludlow, Monson, Palmer, Wales, Wilbraham

District Court of Holyoke
20 Court Plaza
Holyoke, 01040
(413) 538-9710

Holyoke

Springfield District Court

P. O. Box 2421
50 State Street
Springfield, 01101-2421
(413)748-8600

Longmeadow, Springfield, West Springfield

Westfield District Court

224 Elm Street
Westfield, 01085
(413)568-8946

Agawan, Blanford, Chester, Granville, Montgomery, Russell, Southwick, Tolland, Westfield

 

Hampshire County:

District Court Department - Northhampton Division
15 Gothic Street
Northhampton, 01060
(413) 584-7400 #2

 

Chesterfield, Cummington, Easthampton, Goshen, Hatfield, Huntington, Middlefield, Northampton Plainfield, Southampton, Westhampton, Williamsburg, Worthington

District Court of Eastern Hampshire
116 Rusell Street Rt. 9
PO Box 778

Hadley, 01035
(413) 587-3120

 

Amherst, Belchertown, Granby, Hadley, Pelham, South Hadley, Quabbin Reservior & Watershed Area, Ware