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How do Massachusetts Courts work?

The Supreme Court is the highest legal power in the State of Massachusetts. It is able to review any decisions made by the Court of Appeals, allowing it to weigh in on important debates, conflicts, and precedents. The Court of Appeals is then able to review decisions made by the courts below it, when one party choses to contest. These lower courts would be one of the 14 superior or trial courts across the 14 state counties.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

Court records are split into civil cases and small claims cases, and there are differences between the two. Civil cases are those in which the petitioner is looking for over $150,000, of which there are around 150,000 filed each year. These can also include non-monetary disputes over property, name changes, restraining orders, and more. On the other hand, small claims cases involve petitions of $7,000 or under, of which there are also around 150,000 filed per year. These can include disputes over loans, warranties, repairs, deposits, and more. The small claims court can order the defendant to pay a fee.

Appeals and court limits

There are also key differences between what is allowed in each court, and what is not. Either party can appeal in a civil court, although only the defendant can appeal in small claims cases. Pretrial discovery is allowed in civil court, but not in small claims. Parties can also have a lawyer represent them and file papers for them in civil court, but not in small claims. There is a filing fee of $30-$100 in small claims cases, and people are given 30-70 days to complete their case. On the other hand, civil cases have a filing fee of $180-$320, and people are given up to 120 days.

Why are court records public?

The Massachusetts Public Records Law was passed in 1851, with the most recent amendments coming back in the 1970s. It established the public’s right to access government documents in the state, apart from those exempt due to various exceptions. It is intent that all records maintained by both state and local government should be available for access and copy by the public. This helps to achieve a sense of transparency, as well as safeguarding the accountability of the government.

To acquire documents-


John Adams Courthouse, 1
Pemberton Square,
Suite 2500,
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 557-1000
Office Hours: Monday - Friday: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.


Massachusetts Court Structure
Massachusetts State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (617) 751-6490

Search Includes

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  • Affiliated Phone Numbers
  • Affiliated Email Addresses

Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.


The Plymouth County Courthouse was built in 1820.

  • Massachusetts has 9 different court types. They are, in order of power, the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, The Superior Court Department, The District Court Department, the Boston Municipal Court Department, the Juvenile Court Department, the Housing Court Department, the Land Court Department, and the Probate and Family Court Department. 
  • The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has 7 judicial positions, and was first established in 1692. 
  • The Massachusetts Appeals Court is composed of 25 justices. They typically retire at the age of 70, but can be recalled to active service as needed.
  • The Massachusetts Superior Court serves as the court of most serious crimes in the state. For example, they hold exlusive original jurisdiction over first degree murder cases.