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In a civil case, the court is asked to resolve a dispute between two parties. A party might be an individual, a corporation, or a government agency. There are many types of civil cases. Some examples are divorces, 209A restraining orders, mental health proceedings, eviction proceedings, contract disputes and personal injury claims. If you are uncertain whether your case is civil, call your local court.
If you file a civil complaint, the other party may respond by filing a counterclaim against you, or by involving another party in the case. The claims raised by others then become part of your case.
Learning the Language
A civil case usually starts when a complaint or petition is filed. The first thing you will need to do is figure out in which court department and division you should file your case. A case is usually filed in the court closest to where one or both parties live or have their businesses. Other factors that may affect where you should file your case might be the type of case you have or where the event in dispute took place.
The Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, the Massachusetts Rules of Domestic Relations Procedures, and other applicable case law and statutes will help you determine where and how to start your case. The laws and rules that apply in this area can be complex. It is your responsibility to know the rules and law that apply to your case. If you have specific questions about how to file a claim, your local court might be able to assist you.
In some cases, you can get a complaint or petition form from the court or from the Trial Court's website. In other cases, there is no form and you will need to write the complaint or petition yourself. After you complete the complaint or petition, the rules will specify how to properly file your claim at the courthouse.
If a party files a case that the court determines was filed for the sole purpose of making someone angry or to harass them and the case has no sound legal basis, the court can make that party pay for the other party's lawyer's fees plus any costs that might apply and may even make that party pay costs for wasting the court's time.
Small Claims Cases
Small Claims is a special process designed to resolve relatively minor civil cases. Small claims procedure is simpler and quicker than traditional civil procedure. It is governed by its own set of rules.
A small claims case starts with the filing of a form called a "Statement of Claim and Notice," rather than a complaint.
With a few exceptions, small claims procedure can be used only in cases in which the actual amount of damages the plaintiff seeks is relatively small (currently $7,000.00).
Typically, there is a fee that must be paid when you file a complaint or petition with the court. There are other costs that may come up during a case as well. Make sure you find out what costs apply to your type of case before proceeding.
Filing fees vary and are set by the Legislature. If you cannot afford the fees and costs required in connection with your case, you may be able to have them waived.
You can request a waiver of a fee or fees by filling out an "Affidavit of Indigency" form. The Affidavit of Indigency form asks for information about your income and expenses. This will enable the court to determine if you should be excused from paying the fees.
The waiver request can be granted by the clerk-magistrate, register or recorder. If the request is denied or if there are questions about whether you qualify, the request might be referred to a judge.
Once you file your complaint or petition with the court, you must have a copy of it delivered to the other party in the manner required by the rules. You must also deliver a summons or citation, which you can get from the clerk-magistrate, register or recorder of the court. This is called "service of process" and is a crucial part of your case. There are several ways to do this. You must learn what rules apply to your case and then follow them.
After you have served the other party, you will need to file proof with the court that you have done so. This is referred to as "return of service." Your local sheriff's or constable's office may be able to provide helpful information about how to serve your complaint or petition and summons.