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Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure
Please note that lobbyists are active in the state of Massachusetts and laws concerning civil procedure and process serving can change. Therefore the information listed below may have been amended. For updated process serving legislation, please visit the Massachusetts Courts website.
Rule 4: Process
(a) Summons: Issuance
Upon commencing the action the plaintiff or his attorney shall deliver a copy of the complaint and a summons for service to the sheriff, deputy sheriff, or special sheriff; any other person duly authorized by law; a person specifically appointed to serve them; or as otherwise provided in subdivision (c) of this rule. Upon request of the plaintiff separate or additional summons shall issue against any defendant. The summons may be procured in blank from the clerk, and shall be filled in by the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney in accordance with Rule 4(b).
(b) Same: Form
The summons shall bear the signature or facsimile signature of the clerk; be under the seal of the court; be in the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; bear teste of the first justice of the court to which it shall be returnable who is not a party; contain the name of the court and the names of the parties; be directed to the defendant; state the name and address of the plaintiff’s attorney, if any, otherwise the plaintiff’s address, and the time within which these rules require the defendant to appear and defend; and shall notify him that in case of his failure to do so judgment by default may be rendered against him for the relief demanded in the complaint.
(c) By whom served
Except as otherwise permitted by paragraph (h) of this rule, service of all process shall be made by a sheriff, by his deputy, or by a special sheriff; by any other person duly authorized by law; by some person specially appointed by the court for that purpose; or in the case of service of process outside the Commonwealth, by an individual permitted to make service of process under the law of this Commonwealth or under the law of the place in which the service is to be made, or who is designated by a court of this Commonwealth. A subpoena may be served as provided in Rule 45. Notwithstanding the provisions of this paragraph (c), wherever in these rules service is permitted to be made by certified or registered mail, the mailing may be accomplished by the party or his attorney.
(d) Summons: Personal service within the Commonwealth
The summons and a copy of the complaint shall be served together. The plaintiff shall furnish the person making service with such copies as are necessary. Service shall be made as follows:
(1) Upon an individual by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to him personally; or by leaving copies thereof at his last and usual place of abode; or by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an agent authorized by appointment or by statute to receive service of process, provided that any further notice required by such statute be given. If the person authorized to serve process makes return that after diligent search he can find neither the defendant, nor defendant’s last and usual abode, nor any agent upon whom service may be made in compliance with this subsection, the court may on application of the plaintiff issue an order of notice in the manner and form prescribed by law.
(2) Upon a domestic corporation (public or private), a foreign corporation subject to suit within the Commonwealth, or an unincorporated association subject to suit within the Commonwealth under a common name: by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an officer, to a managing or general agent, or to the person in charge of the business at the principal place of business thereof within the Commonwealth, if any; or by delivering such copies to any other agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process, provided that any further notice required by law be given. If the person authorized to serve process makes return that after diligent search he can find no person upon whom service can be made, the court may on application of the plaintiff issue an order of notice in the manner and form prescribed by law.
(3) Upon the Commonwealth or any agency thereof by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the Boston office of the Attorney General of the Commonwealth, and, in the case of any agency, to its office or to its chairman or one of its members or its secretary or clerk. Service hereunder may be effected by mailing such copies to the Attorney General and to the agency by certified or registered mail.
(4) Upon a county, city, town or other political subdivision of the Commonwealth subject to suit, by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the treasurer or the clerk thereof; or by leaving such copies at the office of the treasurer or the clerk thereof with the person then in charge thereof; or by mailing such copies to the treasurer or the clerk thereof by registered or certified mail.
(5) Upon an authority, board, committee, or similar entity, subject to suit under a common name, by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the chairman or other chief executive officer; or by leaving such copies at the office of the said entity with the person then in charge thereof; or by mailing such copies to such officer by registered or certified mail.
(6) In any action in which the validity of an order of an officer or agency of the Commonwealth is in any way brought into question, the party questioning the validity shall forthwith forward to the Attorney General of the Commonwealth by hand or by registered or certified mail a brief statement indicating the order questioned.
(e) Same: Personal service outside the Commonwealth
When any statute or law of the Commonwealth authorizes service of process outside the Commonwealth, the service shall be made by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint: (1) in any appropriate manner prescribed in subdivision (d) of this Rule; or (2) in the manner prescribed by the law of the place in which the service is made for service in that place in an action in any of its courts of general jurisdiction; or (3) by any form of mail addressed to the person to be served and requiring a signed receipt; or (4) as directed by the appropriate foreign authority in response to a letter rogatory; or (5) as directed by order of the court.
The person serving the process shall make proof of service thereof in writing to the court promptly and in any event within the time during which the person served must respond to the process. If service is made by a person other than a sheriff, deputy sheriff, or special sheriff, he shall make affidavit thereof. Proof of service outside the Commonwealth may be made by affidavit of the individual who made the service or in the manner prescribed by the law of the Commonwealth, or the law of the place in which the service is made for proof of service in an action in any of its courts of general jurisdiction. When service is made by mail, proof of service shall include a receipt signed by the addressee or such other evidence of personal delivery to the addressee as may be satisfactory to the court. Failure to make proof of service does not affect the validity of the service.
At any time in its discretion and upon such terms as it deems just, the court may allow any process or proof of service thereof to be amended unless it clearly appears that material prejudice would result to the substantial rights of the party against whom the process is issued.
(h) Certain actions in Probate Courts: Service
Notwithstanding any other provision of these rules, in actions in the Probate Courts in the nature of petitions for instructions or for the allowance of accounts service may be made in accordance with G.L. c. 215, § 46, in such manner and form as the court may order.
(i) Land Court
In actions brought in the Land Court, service shall be made by the court where so provided by statute.
(j) Summons: Time limit for service
If a service of the summons and complaint is not made upon a defendant within 90 days after the filing of the complaint and the party on whose behalf such service was required cannot show good cause why such service was not made within that period, the action shall be dismissed as to that defendant without prejudice upon the court’s own initiative with notice to such party or upon motion.
Rule 5: Service and filing of pleadings and other papers
(a) Service: When required
Except as otherwise provided in these Rules, or unless the court on motion with or without notice or of its own initiative otherwise orders, every order required by its terms to be served, every pleading subsequent to the original complaint, every paper relating to discovery required to be served upon a party, every written motion other than one which may be heard ex parte, and every written notice, notice of change of attorney, appearance, demand, brief or memorandum of law, offer of judgment, designation of record on appeal, and similar paper shall be served upon each of the parties. No service need be made on any party in default for failure to appear except that any pleading asserting new or additional claims for relief against him shall be served upon him in the manner provided for service of summons in Rule 4 and except as otherwise provided in Rule 55(b)(2) with regard to notice of a hearing on the amount of damages.
(b) Same: How made
Whenever under these rules service is required or permitted to be made upon a party represented by an attorney the service shall be made upon the attorney unless service upon the party himself is ordered by the court. Service upon the attorney or upon a party shall be made by delivering a copy to him or by mailing it to him at his last known address or, if no address is known, by leaving it with the clerk of the court. Delivery of a copy within this rule means: handing it to the attorney or to the party; or leaving it at his office with his clerk or other person in charge thereof; or, if there is no one in charge, leaving it in a conspicuous place therein; or if the office is closed or the person to be served has no office, leaving it at his dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein. Service by mail is complete upon mailing.
(c) Same: Multiple defendants
The court, on motion with or without notice or of its own initiative, may order that service of the pleadings of the defendants and replies thereto need not be made as between the defendants and that any cross-claim, counterclaim, or matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense contained therein shall be deemed to be denied or avoided by all other parties and that the filing of any such pleading and service thereof upon the plaintiff constitutes due notice of it to the parties. A copy of every such order shall be served upon the parties in such manner and form as the court directs.
(d) Filing generally, and nonfiling of discovery materials
(1) Except as otherwise provided in Rule 5(d)(2), all papers after the complaint required to be served upon a party shall be filed with the court either before service or within a reasonable time thereafter. Such filing by a party’s attorney shall constitute a representation by him, subject to the obligations of Rule 11, that a copy of the paper has been or will be served upon each of the other parties as required by Rule 5(a). No further proof of service is required unless an adverse party raises a question of notice. In such event, prima facie proof of service shall be made out by a statement signed by the person making service, or by a written acknowledgment signed by the party or attorney served; and such statement or acknowledgment shall be filed within a reasonable time after notice has been questioned. Failure to make proof of service does not affect the validity of service.
(2) Unless the court, generally or in a specific case, on motion ex parte by any party or concerned citizen, or on its own motion shall otherwise order, the following shall not be presented or accepted for filing: notices of taking depositions, transcripts of depositions, interrogatories under Rule 33, answers and objections to interrogatories under Rule 33, requests under Rule 34, and responses to requests under Rule 34. The party taking a deposition or obtaining material through discovery is responsible for its preservation and delivery to court if needed or so ordered. Notwithstanding anything in this Rule 5(d)(2), any party pressing or opposing any motion or other application for relief may file any document pertinent thereto.
(e) Filing with the court defined
The filing of pleadings and other papers with the court as required by these rules shall be made by filing them with the clerk of the court, except that a judge may permit the papers to be filed with him, in which event he shall note thereon the filing date and forthwith transmit them to the office of the clerk.
(f) Effect of failure to file
If any party fails within five days after service to file any paper required by this rule to be filed, the court on its own motion or the motion of any party may order the paper to be filed forthwith; if the order be not obeyed, it may order the paper to be regarded as stricken and its service to be of no effect.
(g) Information required
On any pleading or other paper required or permitted by these rules to be filed with the court, there shall appear the name of the court and the county, the title of the action, the docket number, the designation of the nature of the pleading or paper, and the name and address of the person or attorney filing it. In any case where an endorsement for costs is required, the name of any attorney of this Commonwealth appearing on the complaint filed with the court shall constitute such an endorsement in absence of any words used in connection therewith showing a different purpose.
(h) Protection of personal identifying information
Publicly accessible documents filed with the court shall conform to Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:24, Protection of Personal Identifying Information in Publicly Accessible Court Documents.
Rule 6: Time
In computing any period of time prescribed or allowed by these rules, by order of court, or by any applicable statute or rule, the day of the act, event, or default after which the designated period of time begins to run shall not be included. The last day of the period so computed shall be included, unless it is a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday, in which event the period runs until the end of the next day which is not a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday. When the period of time prescribed or allowed is less than 7 days, intermediate Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays shall be excluded in the computation. As used in this rule and in Rule 77(c), “legal holiday” includes those days specified in Mass. G.L. c. 4, § 7 and any other day appointed as a holiday by the President or the Congress of the United States or designated by the laws of the Commonwealth.
When by these rules or by a notice given thereunder or by order or rule of court an act is required or allowed to be done at or within a specified time, the court for cause shown may at any time in its discretion (1) with or without motion or notice order the period enlarged if request therefor is made before the expiration of the period originally prescribed or as extended by a previous order; or (2) upon motion made after the expiration of the specified period permit the act to be done where the failure to act was the result of excusable neglect; or (3) permit the act to be done by stipulation of the parties; but it may not extend the time for taking any action under Rules 50(b), 52(b), 59(b), (d), and (e), and 60(b), except to the extent and under the conditions stated in them.
(c) For motions-affidavits
A written motion, other than one which may be heard ex parte, and notice of the hearing thereof shall be served not later than 7 days before the time specified for the hearing, unless a different period is fixed by these rules or by order of the court. Such an order may for cause shown be made on ex parte application. When a motion is supported by affidavit, the affidavit shall be served with the motion; and, except as otherwise provided in Rule 59(c), opposing affidavits may be served not later than 1 day before the hearing, unless the court permits them to be served at some other time.
(d) Additional time after service by mail
Whenever a party has the right or is required to do some act or take some proceedings within a prescribed period after the service of a notice or other papers upon him and the notice or paper is served upon him by mail, 3 days shall be added to the prescribed period.