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Rules of Civil Procedure

Rules of Civil Procedure Civil Procedure Rule 5: Service and filing of pleadings and other papers

Effective Date: 02/01/2017
Updates: Amended effective September 16, 1975 Amended August 3, 1982, effective January 1, 1983
Amended January 30, 1989, effective March 1, 1989 Amended March 5, 2002, effective May 1, 2002 Amended October 24, 2012, effective January 1, 2013 Amended January 25, 2017, effective February 1, 2017


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Table of Contents

(a) Service: When required

Except as otherwise provided in these Rules, or unless the court on motion with or without notice or of its own initiative otherwise orders, every order required by its terms to be served, every pleading subsequent to the original complaint, every paper relating to discovery required to be served upon a party, every written motion other than one which may be heard ex parte, and every written notice, notice of change of attorney, appearance, demand, brief or memorandum of law, offer of judgment, designation of record on appeal, and similar paper shall be served upon each of the parties. No service need be made on any party in default for failure to appear except that any pleading asserting new or additional claims for relief against him shall be served upon him in the manner provided for service of summons in Rule 4 and except as otherwise provided in Rule 55(b)(2) with regard to notice of a hearing on the amount of damages.

(b) Same: How made

Whenever under these rules service is required or permitted to be made upon a party represented by an attorney the service shall be made upon the attorney unless service upon the party himself is ordered by the court. Service upon the attorney or upon a party shall be made by delivering a copy to him or by mailing it to him at his last known address or, if no address is known, by leaving it with the clerk of the court. Delivery of a copy within this rule means: handing it to the attorney or to the party; or leaving it at his office with his clerk or other person in charge thereof; or, if there is no one in charge, leaving it in a conspicuous place therein; or if the office is closed or the person to be served has no office, leaving it at his dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein. Service by mail is complete upon mailing.

(c) Same: Multiple defendants

The court, on motion with or without notice or of its own initiative, may order that service of the pleadings of the defendants and replies thereto need not be made as between the defendants and that any cross-claim, counterclaim, or matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense contained therein shall be deemed to be denied or avoided by all other parties and that the filing of any such pleading and service thereof upon the plaintiff constitutes due notice of it to the parties. A copy of every such order shall be served upon the parties in such manner and form as the court directs.

(d) Filing generally, and nonfiling of discovery materials

(1) Except as otherwise provided in Rule 5(d)(2), all papers after the complaint required to be served upon a party shall be filed with the court either before service or within a reasonable time thereafter. Such filing by a party's attorney shall constitute a representation by him, subject to the obligations of Rule 11, that a copy of the paper has been or will be served upon each of the other parties as required by Rule 5(a). No further proof of service is required unless an adverse party raises a question of notice. In such event, prima facie proof of service shall be made out by a statement signed by the person making service, or by a written acknowledgment signed by the party or attorney served; and such statement or acknowledgment shall be filed within a reasonable time after notice has been questioned. Failure to make proof of service does not affect the validity of service.

(2) Unless the court, generally or in a specific case, on motion ex parte by any party or concerned citizen, or on its own motion shall otherwise order, the following shall not be presented or accepted for filing: notices of taking depositions, transcripts of depositions, interrogatories under Rule 33, answers and objections to interrogatories under Rule 33, requests under Rule 34, and responses to requests under Rule 34. The party taking a deposition or obtaining material through discovery is responsible for its preservation and delivery to court if needed or so ordered. Notwithstanding anything in this Rule 5(d)(2), any party pressing or opposing any motion or other application for relief may file any document pertinent thereto.

(e) Filing with the court defined

The filing of pleadings and other papers with the court as required by these rules shall be made by filing them with the clerk of the court, except that a judge may permit the papers to be filed with him, in which event he shall note thereon the filing date and forthwith transmit them to the office of the clerk.

(f) Effect of failure to file

If any party fails within five days after service to file any paper required by this rule to be filed, the court on its own motion or the motion of any party may order the paper to be filed forthwith; if the order be not obeyed, it may order the paper to be regarded as stricken and its service to be of no effect.

(g) Information required

On any pleading or other paper required or permitted by these rules to be filed with the court, there shall appear the name of the court and the county, the title of the action, the docket number, the designation of the nature of the pleading or paper, and the name and address of the person or attorney filing it. In any case where an endorsement for costs is required, the name of any attorney of this Commonwealth appearing on the complaint filed with the court shall constitute such an endorsement in absence of any words used in connection therewith showing a different purpose.

(h) Protection of personal identifying information

Publicly accessible documents filed with the court shall conform to Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:24, Protection of Personal Identifying Information in Publicly Accessible Court Documents.

Reporter's notes

(2017): The 2017 amendment, adding Rule 5(h), serves to alert attorneys, parties, and interested members of the public to the requirements of Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:24, Protection of Personal Identifying Information in Publicly Accessible Court Documents (effective November 1, 2016). Under Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:24, unless there is an exception, personal identifying information, such as social security numbers, parent’s birth surnames, driver’s license numbers, and financial account numbers, may not be included in documents filed in court unless redacted as set forth in the rule.

(2013): The amendment to Rule 5(a) in 2013 was part of a group of amendments to Rules 5(a), 54(c), and 55(b)(2) that responded to the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Hermanson v. Szafarowicz, 457 Mass. 39 (2010). The Hermanson case dealt with the conflict between G.L. c. 231, § 13B, which limits a plaintiff’s ability to demand a specific monetary amount in a complaint, and Rule 54(c), which provides that a default judgment may not exceed the amount requested in the demand for judgment.

Detailed analysis of the amendments to these three rules is set forth in the Reporter’s Notes to the 2013 amendments to Rule 55(b)(2).

(2002): The 2002 amendment to Rule 5(d) added interrogatories under Rule 33 and answers and objections to interrogatories under Rule 33 to the listing of discovery materials that are not to be filed in court (unless leave of court is obtained). This amendment is intended to relieve the parties and court personnel of the burden of filing interrogatories and answers in court. Limitations on the filing of discovery documents were first added to Rule 5(d) in 1989, at which time the following documents were no longer to be filed: notices of taking and transcripts of depositions and requests and responses to requests under Rule 34.

In recent years, some courts have provided, by Standing Order or Administrative Directive, that interrogatories and answers to interrogatories not be filed, notwithstanding the express language of Rule 5(d). See Superior Court Administrative Directive No. 90- 2, Housing Court Standing Order No. 1-96, District Court Standing Order No. 1-98 (applicable in Berkshire, Essex, Middlesex and Norfolk Counties). The 2002 amendment to Rule 5(d) has eliminated the conflict between the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure and any such Standing Orders or Directives.

It should be noted that this amendment to the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure does not change the requirement of Rule 7(a) of the Uniform Summary Process Rules (Trial Court Rule I) that discovery demands be served and filed in court (which results in an automatic postponement of the trial date pursuant to Uniform Summary Process Rule 7(b)). The Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure are applicable in summary process actions only if they are not inconsistent with the Uniform Summary Process Rules (see Uniform Summary Process Rule 1), and the provisions of the latter set of rules regarding filing of discovery are now inconsistent with Mass. R. Civ. P. 5(d).

(1996): With the merger of the District Court Rules into the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, differences that had existed in the District Court rules have been eliminated in merged Rule 5. District Court Rule 5(d) had required that papers after the complaint that are required to be served upon a party must be filed with the court either before service or within five days thereafter (as opposed to a reasonable period of time thereafter as set forth in Rule 5 of the Mass.R.Civ.P.). Also, by merging the two sets of rules, the 1989 amendment to Mass.R.Civ.P. 5(d) regarding the non- filing of specified discovery materials is now clearly applicable in the District Court and Boston Municipal Court.

(1989): As a result of this amendment, which adds a subparagraph (2) to Rule 5(d), specified discovery documents shall ordinarily no longer "be presented or accepted for filing." The discovery documents that shall not be filed, except by leave of court, are: notices of taking and transcripts of depositions, and requests and responses to requests under Rule 34. However, in order to give the court access to relevant documents when a ruling is required, a party "pressing or opposing any motion or other application for relief may file any document pertinent thereto."

Interrogatories and answers thereto are not covered by this amendment, and must be filed in accordance with Rule 5(d)(1).

The reasons for this amendment are that some courthouses have insufficient storage space, and the filing of discovery documents requires valuable clerical time. This amendment is largely patterned after Superior Court Department Standing Order No. 3-87 (Applicable to the Middlesex Division) entitled "SUBJECT: PAPERS IN CIVIL ACTIONS WHICH WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED FOR FILING." The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts has a similar local rule entitled "Nonfiling of Discovery Materials." Local Rule 16(g).

There may not be a need for the new non-filing requirement in some counties or specific courthouses. The amendment permits a court to require filing "generally," thus authorizing a court to order the filing of all discovery, or categories of discovery, in all cases or in categories of cases. There may be occasions when a party, the press, or other concerned citizen has a good reason to have more discovery filed than is normally permitted under the amendment. Consequently, the amendment permits the court, "on motion ex parte by any party or concerned citizen, or on its own motion," to make a different order as to the filing of discovery either "generally or in a specific case."

(1983): Rule 5(a) has been amended by adding discovery documents to those which must be served upon each of the parties. Absent this provision, one must repeatedly consult the docket to keep abreast of the case and to ascertain whether further discovery is necessary. The Standing Advisory Committee considered the potential for large reproduction and mailing costs in multiple-party litigation; this can be controlled, however, by the court's authority to "otherwise order" which is already present in Rule 5(a). This amendment draws the Massachusetts Rule closer to Federal Rule 5(a).

(1975): Rule 5(g) has been revised to accommodate the introduction of flat filing, see S.J.C. Rule 3:20. A paper will still carry the same data as previously; it will not, however, bear it on the reverse, but only at the head. The caption, Rule 10(a), and the attorney's (or party's) signature and statement of address and telephone number, Rule 11(a), will convey the information formerly placed upon the familiar "blue backer." The endorsement for costs, statutorily required if plaintiff is not an inhabitant of the Commonwealth, G.L. Ch. 231, Sec. 4243, need no longer appear on the back of the complaint; in this context, "endorsement" should not be read literally.

Because the revision of Rule 5(g) aims to simplify practice, its terms should be read liberally. Thus clerks should not reject, as violating the rule, a paper which contains writing or typing on its back. Nor should the attachment of a backer justify returning the paper. Finally, the mandate of flat filing does not purport to regulate the manner in which the papers arrive at the clerk's office. Thus papers which are folded for mailing do not violate either Rule 5(g) or S.J.C. Rule 3:20.

(1973): Rule 5 regulates the service and filing of virtually every court document connected with a pending matter. Essentially, it requires that every party affected by a document receive appropriate notice at every step of the action after the original service of process. Obviously, the opposing party or his attorney is entitled to receive a copy of the answer, and of any motion or other paper required to be served; the reference in Rule 5(a) to "similar paper" indicates that the list of other documents is not to be taken as exhaustive.

The phrase "except as otherwise provided" in Rule 5(a) refers to motions which may be made ex parte: (Rule 6(b) – request for enlargement of time made prior to expiration of the applicable period); (Rule 6(d) – application to hear a motion within 7 days); (Rule 65 – application for a temporary restraining order); and (Rule 77(d) – requiring the clerk to give notice of the entry of all orders).

Parties in default for failure to appear need not be served, unless the paper in question contains a new or additional claim for relief; in such case, Rule 4 applies. Another exception to the blanket service requirement is any case involving numerous defendants in which the court has ordered a partial abrogation of such service (see Rule 5(c)). Formerly in Massachusetts, although notice that a motion had been marked up for hearing had to be furnished to "all parties interested" a copy of the motion itself did not have to be supplied unless the opposing party demanded it. Of course, almost all attorneys routinely send copies of all papers to opposing counsel. Rule 5(a) will merely codify that salutary practice.

Rule 5(b) permits service to be made by delivering a copy to the attorney or party (if the party appears pro se), or by mailing one to him at his last known address; or if no such address is known, to the clerk of court. If a party has more than one attorney of record, service upon one of them suffices. Except for permitting service on the clerk in the rare case in which the address is unknown, this portion of Rule 5(b) works no substantial change in Massachusetts practice.

The concept of "delivery" is clearly set out in Rule 5(b). Prior Massachusetts practice did not precisely define this concept. The few cases which have considered the question suggest that the Massachusetts rule concerning delivery was more constrictive than Rule 5(b). For example, effective delivery under former Super. Ct. Rule 3 seemed to require personal receipt by the party or his attorney. Although the manner in which the paper reached the attorney or party was not essential, actual delivery was crucial. "The words 'delivering the same personally' as used in former Super. Ct. Rule 3 did not require the service in hand which is familiar in connection with a writ or process of the court. They were satisfied if the notice was caused to reach the party or his counsel in person." Checkoway v. Cashman Bros. Co., 305 Mass. 470, 472, 26 N.E.2d 374, 375 (1940). The individual giving the notice may use the post office for delivery, "if he is willing to take the chance that it will actually reach the opposing party or his counsel in person." Ibid.

Unlike Rule 5(b), which allows delivery by leaving the copy with a clerk or other person in charge of the recipient's office (or if the office is empty, by leaving the copy in a conspicuous place therein), Massachusetts strictly required personal delivery. In Foley v. Talbot, 162 Mass. 462, 463, 39 N.E. 40 (1894), the attorney had left notice of filing a bill of exceptions in the office of opposing counsel. The Court held that a notice thus left was not duly served unless it actually reached its addressee.

Under Rule 5(b), service may be made by mailing the paper to the party or attorney at his last known address; if no address is known, the paper may be left with the clerk of court. Prior Massachusetts practice made no provision in cases where the address was unknown.

Notice must be written. In the absence of a waiver of written notice, an oral notice is void. Chertok v. Dix, 222 Mass. 226, 227, 110 N.E. 272 (1915). On the other hand, under Rule 5(b), notice by mailing is complete upon depositing the correctly-addressed, postage-prepaid notice in the mailbox. This conforms to previous practice. Checkoway v. Cashman Bros. Co., 305 Mass. 470, 471, 26 N.E.2d 374, 375 (1940); Blair v. Laflin, 127 Mass. 518, 521 (1879).

Rule 5(c) is a kind of "housekeeping" measure designed to enable the court to relieve parties of unnecessary paperwork and postage. This provision, which has no counterpart in prior Massachusetts law, will doubtless be construed by the courts in such a way as to alleviate the problem of excessive service, and not to create the worse difficulty of insufficient service.

The Supreme Judicial Court has held that under prior rules and statutes, filing must precede notice. In Arlington Trust Co. v. LeVine, 289 Mass. 585, 586, 194 N.E. 725, 726 (1935), one attorney had prepared a bill of exceptions and sent them to his opponent with the following letter: "I am enclosing herewith copy of the Defendant's Bill of Exceptions in the above entitled matter, original of which I am this day filing with the Clerk of the Superior Court at Boston." The applicable statute, G.L. c. 231, § 113, and rule, Super. Ct. Rule 3, required that exceptions be reduced to writing and "notice thereof in writing shall be given to the adverse party." The Court held that the notice did not fulfill these requirements. (But see Curran v. Burkhardt, 310 Mass. 466, 468, 38 N.E.2d 622, 624 (1941); and note that S.J.C. Rule 2:28 requires only that copies be given "not later than the day of filing"). Rule 5(d) will relax the heretofore strict Massachusetts practice and will give the attorney the option of serving his opponent after filing, or a reasonable time before filing.

Federal Rule 5 makes no provision for proof of service of pleading and papers subsequent to the complaint (cf. Rule 4(d)); the matter is controlled by local rule in many Districts. Rule 5(d) has been expanded to eliminate all formalities as to proof of service of papers upon other parties. If an adverse party challenges the adequacy of notice, the serving party will of course have to prove service. In order to minimize frivolous challenges, Rule 5(d) provides that a simple statement signed under the penalties of perjury will suffice to establish prima facie proof of service: "I certify that on October 9, 1974, I served the within Answer on plaintiff by mailing a copy thereof, postage-prepaid, directed to his attorney, John Adams, Esq., at his office, 78 Court Street, Boston, Massachusetts. Signed under the penalties of perjury."

The last sentence of Rule 5(d) is designed to make explicit that the attorney's failure to supply proper proof of service does not invalidate the service if in fact it has been properly completed.

Rule 5(e) has no specific Massachusetts analogue, although various statutes and rules indicate strongly that filing must take place at the clerk's office. See, e.g., G.L. c. 231, §§ 13, 113; Super. Ct. Rule 73. The portion of Rule 5(e) permitting service with the judge is new to Massachusetts. It is designed to cover that rare circumstance in which a party's ability to obtain immediately necessary relief must be unjustly impeded were he required first to file his paper with the clerk.

Rule 5(f) makes clear that the court, either of its own motion, or on application from the adverse party, has power to compel filing of papers; such power necessarily requires an appropriate sanction, in this case, nullifying the service and the papers themselves.

The "backing" requirement of Rule 5(g) codifies familiar Massachusetts practice. The reference to endorsement for costs deals with the requirement of G.L. c. 231, §§ 42 and 43 that initial papers must, if the plaintiff is not an inhabitant of the Commonwealth, be endorsed before entry by a "responsible" inhabitant, who then becomes liable for costs if the plaintiff is unable or unwilling to pay them. This requirement does not affect the large majority of cases, in which the plaintiff is a resident. Shute v. Bills, 198 Mass. 544, 545, 84 N.E. 862, 863 (1908). An endorsement from the office of an attorney is a sufficient compliance with the statute; the attorney thus becomes liable for the costs. Johnson v. Sprague, 183 Mass. 102, 104, 66 N.E. 422, 423 (1903). Rule 5(g) merely clarifies existing law and clearly implies that if the attorney does not wish to be liable for costs, he may so indicate on the backer of the complaint. In that case, the plaintiff must find someone else to endorse the backer.

Downloads for Civil Procedure Rule 5: Service and filing of pleadings and other papers


Updates: Amended effective September 16, 1975 Amended August 3, 1982, effective January 1, 1983
Amended January 30, 1989, effective March 1, 1989 Amended March 5, 2002, effective May 1, 2002 Amended October 24, 2012, effective January 1, 2013 Amended January 25, 2017, effective February 1, 2017