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Massachusetts Uniform Small Claims
Rule 1: Scope and Applicability of Rules; Definitions

[Disclaimer]

Pursuant to G.L. c. 218, §§ 21-25, these rules govern procedures in all small claims actions in the Trial Court of the Commonwealth. They shall be construed and applied to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every small claims action. Other civil rules of court shall not be applicable in small claims.

As used herein, the singular shall include the plural.

In these rules, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

"Clerk" shall mean the Clerk-Magistrate of the division or a person assigned by him or her to perform the required function.

"Court" shall mean the magistrate or judge presiding over the hearing of a small claims action.

"Magistrate" shall mean a clerk-magistrate or assistant clerk magistrate authorized by G.L. c. 218, §§ 21-23 to hear and determine small claims actions.

"Trade” and “commerce“ shall have the same meaning as in G.L. c. 93A, § 1, but shall not include the lease or rental of residential property that is the plaintiff’s primary residence and that consists of three units or less, provided the plaintiff does not own, manage or have other involvement in the lease or rental of other residential property.

"Assigned debt” shall mean a claim or judgment where the right to collect the debt has been assigned by the creditor to another person or entity.

"Plaintiff” in Rules 7 through 10, shall include a defendant with respect to any
counterclaim or any claim against a third party brought by him or her, and the word
“defendant” shall include a plaintiff or a third party with respect to any counterclaim or
any third-party claim brought against him or her.

"He” or “she” shall include any entity that may sue or be sued.

The Chief Justice for Administration and Management shall promulgate the Statement of Small Claim form, the Verification of Defendant’s Address form, and the Agreement for Judgment form provided for in these rules.

As amended, effective January 2, 2002 and October 1, 2009.

Commentary to 2009 Amendments. The authority formerly granted by Rule 1 to vary the notice requirements of these rules has been deleted because of the addition of mandatory address verification requirements in Rule 2(b). The court continues to have authority under Rule 3(a) to vary the manner in which notice is served. The definitions of “trade” and “commerce” and of “assigned debt” were added to implement the new address verification and pleading requirements of Rule 2(b). The definitions of “trade” and “commerce” refer to the Consumer Protection Act, G.L. c. 93A, but contain an exclusion for rentals of landlord-occupied multiple dwellings of three units or less. Case law further defining trade or commerce in the context of c. 93A cases is intended to be applicable here.

Commentary to 2001 Amendments. Most of these amendments are proposed to conform the Uniform Small Claims Rules to the statutory changes enacted by St. 1992, c. 379. The reasons for other proposed changes are noted under each rule.

The former second paragraph of Rule 1 has been rendered unnecessary by the passage of time since the 1983 promulgation of the Uniform Small Claims Rules.

The newly-added definition of “magistrate” reflects the statutory change contained in St. 1992, c. 379 and intends that small claims matters generally be heard in the first instance by a clerk-magistrate or an assistant clerk-magistrate. No magistrate who is not qualified by education or training should preside over small claims since these matters are to be determined “according to the rules of substantive law.” G.L. c. 218, §21. The Trial Court will provide training pursuant to criteria approved by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management.

The newly-added definitions of “plaintiff” and “defendant” reflect the holdings of Most v. Fitzgerald, 417 Mass. 1001 (1994), and Bischof v. Kern, 33 Mass. App. Ct. 45 (1992), that small claims plaintiffs may appeal from an adverse decision on a counterclaim brought by the defendant. The addition of these definitions permits simple, consistent use of the terms “plaintiff” and “defendant” throughout these
rules.