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Because this is a summary of how to enforce a Massachusetts judgment,
here are four links for more information:
A judgment is a final order of a court, that shows a cash amount is owed
by one party to another. The courts cannot help, so you must enforce it
yourself, or get help to enforce your judgment.
Massachusetts interest rate (simple non-compounded annual interest) for
judgments is 12%, which starts from the original action, breach, or
demand (what led to, or started the lawsuit). Note that if the
defendant's defenses, setoffs or counterclaims are deemed insubstantial,
frivolous and not in good faith; the interest rate becomes 18%.
Massachusetts has three civil trial courts that address judgment
enforcement matters. If the judgment amount is less than $2,000, you
will be in the (District or Municipal) Small Claims court. If the
judgment amount is more than $2,000 but less than $25,000, you will be
in District Civil court. If the amount is more than $25,000 you will be
in Superior court.
Massachusetts judgments are enforceable for
20 years. They can be renewed for another 20 years if you notify the
court that the judgment has not yet been satisfied.
Only lawyers get to view case information online, mortals
must drive to to a court, and go inside to use the
public access terminal(s). Some are propped up in a corner with cobwebs on
them and have not been updated since the 1980's, but at least you can
reach other courts from one location. Using this system can be used to
go through cases to see if they have judgments awarded, or you can try
to just go through the files by hand, but that
takes lots of small steps to get them to give them to you. Your going
to run into limited stacks being given to you, limited viewing hours,
rude clerks that just say no, time limitations on how long you can be
at a public terminal, etc.
You can get access
through the Massachusetts Superior Court Case Information System
If you are a lawyer you are not restricted to just searching by case number. The District Courts
(the lower courts that have the small claim cases) are absolutely not
online to anyone except the Probation Dept, who does not share their case information.
The lower courts do have paper printouts of the cases organized by year
in crappy binders on the counter and old pubic access terminals in the
An unusual part of Massachusetts law is that to keep your
judgment alive, you must get a Writ Of Execution (WOE) from the court,
within one year of when you are entitled to get a WOE from that court.
If this sounds complicated - the actual text of the law about this is
even more complicated.
Massachusetts treats WOEs differently
than most other states. WOEs must be obtained from the court with one
year, and in general they last as long as the judgment does. If you
use a WOE to successfully collect some of the debtor's assets, you
have used it up. You must then get a new WOE that shows much the
debtor already paid. And you must get this new WOE within five years.
With a WOE, you can attach the debtor's wages or their bank
account, or ask the sheriff to levy and sell a debtor's asset. (For
details, see chapter 246 of the General Laws of Massachusetts.)
To levy a bank account, you first get permission from the
court. Then you take the WOE, with levy instructions, and pay the
local sheriff to levy the debtor's bank account
To levy a
debtor's wages, you have to mail the debtor notice of the wage levy
request by registered mail, to give them at least ten days notice of
the planned wage levy. The first $125 per week of wages are usually
exempt. Then you take the WOE, with instructions, and pay the local
sheriff to levy the debtor's wages.
You can also use a WOE to
levy debtor's personal property such as a car, jewelry, or musical
instrument, or their TV set. You don't get to take the items yourself.
You have to pay a sheriff to take and store the items before they are
sold at a public auction. This is not always cost-effective.
If the debtor has or will one day have equity in real estate, you can
record a lien at the county registry of deeds, in the county where the
debtor's current or future property is. If the property is refinanced
or sold, you might get paid. In some rare cases, you can (at great
expense) force the sale of a property to satisfy your judgment.
If you are recovering judgments for others in Massachusetts,
you should be a licensed as collection agency.
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