Courts System Massachusetts

Supreme Court (Court of Last Resort)
  1. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts is also known as the court of last resort. As the decision of this court is final and binding upon the parties.


  1. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is set out in the Constitution.
  2. The Court has mandatory review jurisdiction in final orders of
    1. Trial court decisions declaring a State statute or provision of the State Constitution invalid,
    2. bond validations, and
    3. certain orders of the Public Service Commission on utility rates and services.
  3. This review jurisdiction can also be exercised as discretion of the Supreme Court in a matter where a party seeks the review. The Court at its discretion may also review
    1. any decision of Appeals Court that expressly declares valid a state statute,
    2. construes a provision of the state or federal constitution,
    3. affects a class of constitutional or state officers, or
    4. directly conflicts with a decision of another Trial court or of the Supreme Court on the same question of law.
  4. The Supreme Court also reviews certain categories of judgments, decisions, and questions of law certified to it by the Appeals Court and federal appellate courts.
  5. The Supreme Court has the writ Jurisdiction exercising its constitutional authority to issue the extraordinary writs of
    1. prohibition,
    2. mandamus,
    3. quo warranto, and
    4. habeas corpus and
    5. all other writs necessary to the complete exercise of its jurisdiction, e.g. an order to stay lower court proceedings.
  6. These writs are issued without the necessity of having to proceed initially to trial.
Writ of Habeas Corpus
  1. This writ may be invoked by any person who seeks release from custody or confinement which is asserted to be unlawful.

Writ of Prohibition

  1. Through this writ a court may prevent a lower tribunal from acting upon matters that are not within its jurisdiction or from exceeding its lawful powers.
Writ of Mandamus
  1. Issuance of this writ means a court compel an official to perform a duty the law requires but that the official has failed or refused to perform.
Writ of Quo Warranto
  1. This writ is available to challenge the right of public officials to hold the offices to which they claim entitlement.
  2. All matters may not come in appeal except the matter, which involves the followings
    1. Express validity of statutes
    2. Construction of Massachusetts or US constitutions
    3. Decisions affecting a class of constitutional/statutory officers
    4. Certified questions
  1. The Appeals Court hears appeals from final judgments and reviews certain non-final orders.
  2. By general law, the Trial courts have been granted the power to review final actions taken by state agencies in carrying out the duties of the executive branch of government.
  3. The Trial courts have constitutional authority to issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, as well as all other writs necessary to the complete exercise of their jurisdiction.
  4. A person aggrieved with a Trial court's express decision may ask for review in the Massachusetts Supreme Court and then in the United States Supreme Court, but neither tribunal is required to accept the case for further review.


  1. The trial court has been divided into various department, dealing with particular type of cases.
    1. Boston Municipal Court Department
    2. District Court Department
    3. Housing Court Department
    4. Juvenile Court Department
    5. Land Court Department
    6. Probate and Family Court Department
    7. Superior Court Department
  1. Criminal jurisdiction of the Municipal Court includes most criminal offenses which do not require the imposition of a state prison sentence.
  2. If a prison sentence is mandated, the Court may conduct probable cause hearings to determine whether offenses will be bound over to the Superior Court.
  3. The Court has original jurisdiction over a number of serious felonies, concurrent with the Superior Court.
  4. The Court's civil jurisdiction includes
    1. contract and tort actions;
    2. cases remanded from the Superior Court;
    3. small claims, small claims jury appeals;
    4. mental health commitments;
    5. summary process;
    6. supplementary proceedings;
    7. unemployment compensation appeals;
    8. paternity and support actions; and domestic abuse actions.
  5. The Court also has jurisdiction for review of
    1. findings of the State Police Trial Board and
    2. equitable jurisdiction in lead poisoning prevention;
    3. landlord interference with quiet enjoyment or failure to provide utilities;
    4. family abuse prevention; sanitary code; and
    5. residential nuisances.
  1. The District Court hears a wide range of criminal, civil, housing, juvenile, mental health, and other types of cases.
  2. District Court criminal jurisdiction extends to
    1. all felonies punishable by a sentence up to five years, and
    2. many other specific felonies with greater potential penalties;
    3. all misdemeanors; and
    4. all violations of city and town ordinances and by-laws.
  3. In felonies not within District Court final jurisdiction, the District Court conducts probable cause hearings to determine if a defendant should be bound over to the Superior Court.
  4. District Court magistrates conduct hearings to issue criminal complaints and arrest warrants, and to determine whether there is probable cause to detain persons arrested without a warrant.
  5. Both judges and magistrates issue criminal and administrative search warrants.
  6. In civil matters, District Court judges conduct both jury and jury-waived trials, and determine with finality any matter in which the likelihood of recovery does not exceed $25,000.
  7. The District Court also tries small claims involving up to $2,000 (initially tried to a magistrate, with a defense right of appeal either to a judge or to a jury).
  8. The District Court's civil jurisdiction also includes many specialized proceedings:
    1. inquests;
    2. summary process (evictions);
    3. supplementary process (enforcement of money judgments);
    4. abuse prevention restraining orders;
    5. mental health matters
    6. appeals from certain administrative agencies
    7. civil motor vehicle infractions
    8. equitable injunctions
  1. The Housing Court Department has jurisdiction of
    1. the use of any real property and
    2. activities conducted thereon
  2. Such use affects the health, welfare, and safety of any resident, occupant, user or member of the general public and which is subject to regulation by local cities and towns under the state building code, state specialized codes, state sanitary code, and other applicable statutes and ordinances.
The Juvenile Court has general jurisdiction over delinquency, children in need of services (CHINS), care and protection petitions, adult contributing to a delinquency of a minor cases, adoption, guardianship, termination of parental rights proceedings, and youthful offender cases.
  1. The Land Court Department of the Trial Court has statewide jurisdiction.
  2. While the court has jurisdiction throughout the Commonwealth, the justices of the Land Court normally sit in Boston.
  3. The court has exclusive, original jurisdiction over the registration of title to real property and over all matters and disputes concerning such title subsequent to registration.
  4. The court also exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over the foreclosure and redemption of real estate tax liens.
  5. The court shares, with certain other court departments, jurisdiction over other property matters.
  6. The court has concurrent jurisdiction over specific performance of contracts relating to real estate and over petitions for partitions of real estate.
  7. The court shares jurisdiction over matters arising out of decisions by local planning boards and zoning boards of appeal.
  8. Both the Land Court and the Superior Court Department have jurisdiction over the processing of mortgage foreclosure cases, determining the military status of the mortgagor.
  9. Additionally, the court has superintendency authority over the registered land office in each registry of deeds.
  1. The Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction over family matters such as
    1. divorce,
    2. paternity,
    3. child support,
    4. custody,
    5. visitation,
    6. adoption,
    7. termination of parental rights, and
    8. abuse prevention.
  2. Probate matters include jurisdiction over
    1. wills,
    2. administrations of estate,
    3. guardianships,
    4. conservatorships and change of name.
  1. The Superior Court has original jurisdiction
    1. in civil actions over $25,000, and in matters where equitable relief is sought.
    2. in actions involving labor disputes where injunctive relief is sought,
  2. It has exclusive authority to convene medical malpractice tribunals.
  3. The Court has exclusive original jurisdiction in first degree murder cases and original jurisdiction for all other crimes.
  4. It has jurisdiction over all felony matters, although it shares jurisdiction over crimes where other Trial Court Departments have concurrent jurisdiction.
  5. The Superior Court has appellate jurisdiction over certain administrative proceedings.