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Please note, this is a guide only, and is not meant to include every step of the Small Claims Court process. For legal advice, consult with a private attorney.
Known popularly as the people's court, small claims court is an informal and inexpensive forum to help you settle disputes of $7,000 or less.
Though the above is the general rule and covers a majority of potential claims, there are a few limited exceptions:
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. The Plaintiff (the person bringing the suit) has the option to file suit in the District court where either the Plaintiff or Defendant (the person or business being sued) 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.
This list is not exhaustive, but rather is intended to give an example of claims that would likely belong in Small Claims Court.
To file suit, you must fill out a Statement of Claim and Notice form. Get this from the Small Claims Clerk in your district. 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.
Next, the Clerk will give you 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 also sends a copy of the Statement of Claim and Notice form to the Defendant.
A week before the hearing:
Decision of the Court
Options for the Defendant
Settle: The parties may come to an agreement to settle out of court even after the suit has started. Notify the Court of settlement. Both parties should sign the written agreement, entitled Agreement for Judgment, and have it filed with the Court's records, so that it may be enforced by law. Keep a copy for your records.
Counterclaim: A Counterclaim is a Defendant's optional suit in reverse against a Plaintiff. It must be filed with the Clerk at least two days prior to the hearing and there is usually a nominal fee. If you have a valid claim against a party suing you, notify the Clerk that you wish to file a counterclaim. 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.
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.
9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.