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Massachusetts Uniform Small Claims
Rule 3: Notice to Defendant; Answer to Claim

[Disclaimer]

(a) Notice. The clerk shall promptly send to the defendant by first class mail, at the address or addresses supplied by the plaintiff, a copy of the Statement of Claim and Notice form. Such first class mail notice shall be sufficient, provided that it is not returned to the court undelivered. Service on out-of-state defendants shall be made pursuant to the provisions of G.L. c. 223A. The court may provide for any other means of service in individual cases as is deemed necessary.

(b) Answer. The Statement of Small Claim form shall instruct the defendant that he or she may, if he or she wishes, submit a written answer to the claim in the form of a letter to the court, with a copy mailed to the plaintiff, signed by the defendant and setting out in clear and simple language the reason(s) why the plaintiff should not prevail. The answer should state fully and specifically what parts of the claim are contested. However, the filing of an answer is optional, and the failure to file an answer shall not result in the defendant's default. If the defendant's failure to submit a written answer, or to send a copy of it to the plaintiff in a timely manner, has prejudiced the presentation of the plaintiff's case, the court shall grant a continuance at the plaintiff's request.

(c) Defendant's Counterclaim. In the answer, or in a separate writing filed with the court, the defendant may set forth any claim which he or she has against the plaintiff within the jurisdiction of the court in small claims cases, without incurring any filing fee or surcharge. Both the plaintiff's claim and the defendant's claim shall be deemed one case if the defendant mails notice of his claim to the plaintiff at least ten days in advance of the scheduled trial date. The court may also permit the defendant to bring such a claim in writing at any time. Such claims shall not be compulsory. No written answer to the defendant's claim is required. If the defendant's presentation of a counterclaim, or failure to send timely notice to the plaintiff, has prejudiced the presentation of the plaintiff's case, the court shall grant a continuance at the plaintiff's request.

(d) Third-Party Practice. The defendant may bring a claim against any third party who may be liable to him or her for all or part of the plaintiff's claim if the defendant's claim is within the jurisdiction of the court in small claims cases and notice is mailed to the third party in the manner provided in Rule 2 at least ten days in advance of the scheduled trial date. The court may also permit the defendant to bring such a claim in writing at any time. There shall be no filing fee or surcharge for such a claim. When a counterclaim is asserted against the plaintiff, he or she may bring a claim against a third party in the same manner.

As amended, effective July 1, 1986; November 22, 1989, effective November 30, 1989; October 1, 2001, effective January 1, 2002; December 8, 2004, effective January 1, 2005, and effective October 1, 2009.

Commentary to 2004 Amendments. The change to paragraph (a) reflects the amendment of G.L. c. 218, § 22 by St. 2004, c. 149, § 199. This amendment abolishes the earlier statutory requirement of notice by registered mail. Notice by first class mail is now sufficient.

Commentary to 2001 Amendments. The change to paragraph (a) codifies the holding of Schreiber v. Hoyusgaard, 1989 Mass. App. Div. 138 (S. Dist.), that in the case of an out-of-state defendant the service provisions of the long-arm statute (G.L. c. 223A, § 6) prevail over those in this rule. The practical significance of this change is that mail service on an out-of-state defendant is valid only if there is a signed receipt for the certified mail.

The procedure embodied in the proposed amendment to paragraph (b) would give plaintiffs a guarantee of protection from surprise defenses, but it would not require an answer to be filed in all cases. The amendment to paragraph (c) would also protect plaintiffs from surprise.