Massachusetts law about small claims

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on small claims law by the Trial Court Law Libraries

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Which claims can be brought as small claims?

$7000 Claims up to $7000 can be brought as small claims

From the Mass. District Court: 

"Unless your suit 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."

Best bets

Self-help: small claims, Mass. Trial Court.
Start here to file your small claim. Includes information from BMC, District Court, and Housing Court.

Multilingual videos explaining the small claims process, Mass. Trial Court. 
Steps you through the entire process in a series of 7 short videos. Available in English and 7 other languages.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.218, § 21 Power to establish rules of small claims procedure; venue; jurisdictional amount; hearings; damages and penalties

MGL c.218, §§ 22-25 Small claims procedure

MGL c.231, §§ 6B, 6C, 6H Interest on damages set at 12%

MGL c.260 Statutes of limitation
These are the time limits for filing a case in court but can be affected by other factors such as tolling (a reason to delay the time limit), discovery (when you discovered the harm) advance notice of claim (consumer protection 93A) and other issues. While many cases fall under one of these more common statutes of limitation, the facts of your claim may require a different one. For more info, see our print sources below or discuss with an attorney.              

  • § 2 Contracts and judgments, 6 years
  • § 2A Torts and personal injury, 3 years
  • § 5A Consumer protection, 4 years

Rules and fees

Filing fees in District Court and Boston Municipal Court, Mass. District Court.
Fees (with surcharges) range from $40 to $150 depending on damages sought.

Trial Court Rule III: Uniform Small Claims Court Rules, Mass. Trial Court, 2009.

Uniform Magistrate Rules: Rule 4: Mediation of Small Claims Actions, Mass. Trial Court.
Guidelines for electing and utilizing mediation by a magistrate in small claims.

Forms

Small claims guide and file
The easiest way to file!

This program will help you fill out the forms to file a small claim by asking you questions and then using your answers to create filled-in forms that you can electronically file in court.

If you do not use Guide and File, see Small claims forms. While many forms are available, the printed Statement of Small Claim form is not available on the web and must be picked up at the court. Forms are available in 7 languages in addition to English.

Selected cases

D.R. Peck Excavating v. Machado, 481 Mass. 1033 (2019)
"Parties who opt to take advantage of its benefits forgo certain rights that they would otherwise have in a regular civil case, including the regular rights to appellate review....after a small claims case is tried in the District Court before a judge or a jury, the losing litigant has no right to appeal to the Appellate Division. A party may ask the judge to exercise his or her discretion to report the matter to the Appellate Division if the judge believes that questions of law within the case require appellate review, but '[n]o party ... shall be entitled to a report.' G. L. c. 218, § 23."

Delisle v. Clerk-Magistrate of the Lowell Division of the District Court, SJC Case Docket (2019)
The Court recommend amendments to the rules to ensure that courts do not inadvertently issue
or enforce small claim payment orders that require debtors to pay using income or an asset that is exempt from collection under state or federal law. Agreement for Judgment and Payment Order now includes a list of exempt property.

McMann v. McGowan, 71 Mass. App. Ct. 513 (2008)
The Court described a requirement of delivery “in hand” as placing the item “in the hand of the intended receiver.”

Schubach v. Household Finance Corporation, 375 Mass. 133 (1978)
"Intentionally filing collection actions against consumers in inconvenient distant courts, with the purpose and effect of securing default judgments and gaining unfair advantage," may be an unfair and deceptive act under c.93A, "even though the company filed its actions in compliance with c. 223, Section 2."

Trust Insurance Co. v. Bruce at Park Chiropractic Clinic, 430 Mass. 607 (2000)
The Court noted the legislature “simplified the small claims procedure by reducing the number of trials before a judge, or a judge with a jury, to one.”

Web sources

Massachusetts District Court small claims cases: an overview, Cara O’Neill, Nolo.com.
Learn about filing a small claims court case in Massachusetts District Court.

Small claims advisory service
"Here you will find any information you need to learn more about small claims court, the relevant laws, and contact information to get further assistance from the SCAS organization." SCAS is a group of college undergraduates, not attorneys.

Small claims can require big decisions, by Marc G. Perlin and John M. Connors, 2012.
Article originally published in Mass. Lawyers Weekly addresses the question, "Despite its advantages in terms of simplified procedure, speed, and informality, are there reasons for a plaintiff to avoid the small claims forum?"

Small claims courts, Mass. Office of Consumer Affairs.
Includes information on whether small claims court is right for you, what to consider before filing, and more.

What to do if you lose your small claims case, Mass. Trial Court.
If you sued and lost, that decision is final. But if you were sued by someone else and lost, you may be able to appeal.

Print sources

Civil practice, 3rd ed. (Mass. Practice v.9-9A) Thomson West, 2004 with supplements. Sec. 4.27 Jurisdiction of district courts to administer small claims procedure.

Collection law : debtor/creditor practice, procedure, remedies, 4th ed. (Mass. Practice v.48-48A) Thomson West, 2015 with supplements.  Sec. 10:25 Supplementary process; 10:44. Supplementary process for small claims judgments.

Everybody's guide to small claims court by Cara O'Neill, Nolo, 2020.

Handbook of civil procedure in the Massachusetts District Court by Marc G. Perlin, John M. Connors. With supplement. Chapter 15: Small Claims.

Pursuing a case in small claims court, 3rd ed., MCLE, 2010.

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Last updated: November 29, 2022

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