Massachusetts District Court Small Claims Cases: An Overview

Learn about filing a small claims court case in Massachusetts District Court.

By , Attorney

What's the small claims dollar limit in Massachusetts District Court?

You can ask for up to $7,000 (with some exceptions) in the small claims division in Massachusetts District Court—the court that handles small claims matters in Massachusetts (or Boston Municipal Court). There's no limit for claims seeking recovery of property damage caused by motor vehicle; a statutory award if actual damages are $7,000 or less; or double or treble damages awarded pursuant to a consumer protection law.

Can a landlord bring an eviction lawsuit in a Massachusetts small claims court?

The small claims division of the Massachusetts District Court doesn't hear evictions. However, it's an excellent forum for other types of cases typically brought in small claims courts, such as property damage matters and breach of contract disputes.

Which Massachusetts District Court should I file my small claims action in?

Massachusetts has many district courts and you must choose the proper court location or "venue." Otherwise, the defendant—the person or company you sue—will be able to ask the court to transfer or dismiss your action. In Massachusetts, you can file in the following judicial district:

  • where the plaintiff or defendant resides
  • where the plaintiff or defendant is employed
  • where the plaintiff or defendant does business, or
  • if the action is against a landlord, the case can be brought where the property is located.

Go to Massachusetts's corporations division webpage for company information. You might have other options, depending on your case. Most courts post venue rules on the court website.

What's the deadline to file a case in small claims court in Massachusetts?

You don't have an unlimited amount of time to file a claim. You'll have to bring it within the statute of limitations period for your particular case. For example, the Massachusetts statute of limitations periods is six years for oral and written contracts, and three years for personal injury and property damage cases. Other limitations periods exist, depending on the type of action. If you don't file within the proper period, you lose your right to sue.

Also, the statute of limitations can stop and restart depending on various circumstances, and figuring out when it expires can be challenging. For instance, if a minor is injured, the personal injury statute won't begin running until the child reaches 18 years of age. Learn more about calculating the statute of limitations.

Can an attorney represent a small claims claimant in Massachusetts District Court?

Yes. Individuals can have a lawyer present the claim before the judge.

Does the defendant have to answer the small claims complaint?

Written responses aren't required. You must show up on the trial date and present your side to avoid an automatic loss and default judgment.

Learn what happens if you get sued in small claims court.

Will I have a judge or jury trial in small claims court in Massachusetts?

Jury trials aren't allowed so a judge will hear your small claims hearing. Find out what to expect at the small claims trial.

Can I appeal a Massachusetts District Court small claims case?

Yes—if you're a defendant who appeared at the trial. Massachusetts law doesn't allow a plaintiff or defaulting defendant to appeal. A qualifying defendant must file a Claim of Appeal form requesting review by a judge or jury within 10 days after receiving written notice of the decision. You'll also deposit a small fee, and a $100 bond.

In many small claims courts, the clerk sends a notification of the decision or judgment by mail, but the procedure used by your court could be different. You must comply with this and other rules, so be sure to do your research and count the dates accurately, or talk with a local attorney.

Will the court collect my judgment for me?

No. You'll be responsible for all collection efforts. It's a good idea to determine whether you can collect before deciding whether to sue.

Where can I learn more about small claims court in Massachusetts?

Most courts include filing instructions on the court website or provide self-help services. For additional resources, try the Massachusetts small claims webpage. You can also view Massachusetts law online on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts General Laws webpage. (M.G.L. Ch. 218, §§ 21 to 25; Ch. 223, § 6; Ch. 93A, § 9; Massachusetts Rules of Court, Uniform Small Claims Rules, Rules 1 to 10; Small Claims Standards, 1:00 to 9:05.)

For detailed help with case filing, court strategy, and collecting a money judgment, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court by Attorney Cara O'Neill (Nolo).

Look out for Legal Changes. This overview doesn't provide all of the information needed to file a small claims case. Also, keep in mind that statutes can change, and checking them is always a good idea. How the courts interpret and apply the law can also change. These are just some of the reasons to consult an attorney if you have any questions about litigating your case or if you aren't comfortable independently verifying the law.