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Jurisdiction of the Boston Municipal Court

An introduction to the jurisdiction of the Boston Municipal Court (BMC).

Table of Contents

Overview

The Jurisdiction and venue discussed below are legal concepts governed by laws that can have serious consequences for a lawsuit. This overview is intended to be a brief introduction to these concepts, and you should talk to a lawyer about your specific case.

Case types

The types of criminal cases that may be filed in the BMC include most felonies and misdemeanors that don’t 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 BMC include: 

  • Contract and tort actions where the likely recovery isn’t more than $50,000 (for cases commenced on or after January 1, 2020).  
  • Small claims cases where the likely recovery isn’t more than $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 
  • Violations of certain city or town ordinances and bylaws

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

Territorial jurisdiction (judicial districts)

The BMC is made up of 8 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, and Beacon Hill.
  • Charlestown covers Charlestown.
  • Dorchester covers Dorchester.
  • East Boston covers East Boston, Winthrop, Logan Airport, and the 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, and 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’s necessary that the court have personal jurisdiction (authority) over the defendant. Generally, any person who lives in Massachusetts, or any organization that’s established under Massachusetts laws or that maintains a primary place of business in Massachusetts, may be sued in Massachusetts. See M.G.L. c. 223A, § 2. In certain circumstances, the court divisions of the BMC may also have personal jurisdiction over a defendant who lives or works outside of the state, as set forth in the long arm statute (M.G.L. c. 223A, §§ 1 through 11.

In addition to ensuring personal jurisdiction over the defendant, it’s 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 M.G.L. c. 223A, § 2 . In addition, a separate law provides that a civil lawsuit seeking money damages may be filed in the Central Division of the BMC if one or more of the defendants lives or has a usual place of business in Suffolk County, excluding Chelsea and Revere. See M.G.L. c. 218, § 54.

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Last updated: December 31, 2019
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