The statutes comprising the Commonwealth's one-trial system lie at the heart of this case. The plaintiff filed an action in the Superior Court asserting separate claims for equitable relief and money damages. Pursuant to G. L. c. 212, § 3, one of the one-trial system statutes, a Superior Court judge determined that damages on the legal claims were not likely to exceed the threshold amount of $25,000 and dismissed the complaint, notwithstanding the presence of the equity claim that fell squarely within the Superior Court's general equity jurisdiction. We conclude that c. 212, § 3, and the additional one-trial system statutory provisions, vest discretionary authority in a Superior Court judge to follow such a course.
On December 31, 2008, Scott Zizza filed an answer to the complaint. He denied the allegations that he failed to make timely child support payments and raised a number of affirmative defenses, including failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, statute of limitations, and lack of subject matter jurisdiction. He did not include in the answer a defense of failure to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement of the Superior Court pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (10), as appearing in 450 Mass. 1403 (2008),
On February 20, 2009, Plastic Concepts and Thompson filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. They based their motion on Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (1), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), lack of subject matter jurisdiction; rule 12 (b) (5), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), insufficiency of service of process; rule 12 (b) (6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted; and rule 12 (b) (10), failure to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement to proceed in the Superior Court. (See note 4, supra.)
The plaintiff filed oppositions to both motions to dismiss. With respect to the defense of lack of amount in controversy under rule 12 (b) (10), the plaintiff countered that because one type of relief sought in the complaint was specific performance — an equitable remedy — and because the Superior Court has the general authority to order such equitable relief, jurisdiction in the Superior Court was proper. She also contended that if consideration were given to the arrearages as well as the nonpayment of child support likely to occur in the future (i.e., until the children are "emancipated"), the amount of money damages likely would exceed $25,000. After a hearing, a judge in the Superior Court ordered the complaint dismissed against all defendants pursuant to rule 12 (b) (10), for failure to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement applicable to the Superior Court.
Pursuant to G. L. c. 212, § 3A (c),
2. Discussion. In 2004, the Legislature enacted a one-trial system for civil cases throughout the Commonwealth. St. 2004, c. 252. See Sperounes v. Farese, 449 Mass. 800, 802-804 (2007) (Sperounes) (discussing one-trial system statutory background and history). Under the one-trial system, a civil action for money damages filed in the Superior Court may proceed to trial in that court "only if there is no reasonable likelihood that recovery by the plaintiff will be less than or equal to $25,000," G. L. c. 212, § 3, as amended by St. 2004, c. 252, § 2
With respect to civil actions seeking solely money damages in the District Court, we previously have held that although the $25,000 limitation on damages imposed by G. L. c. 218, § 19, is not jurisdictional, a judge in the District Court must dismiss the case if a defendant timely objects on the ground that the
The reasoning of the Sperounes case equally applies to actions commenced in the Superior Court. It therefore follows that, in an action filed in the Superior Court seeking money damages only, if a defendant timely objects
In the present case, we agree with the Superior Court judge and the single justice of the Appeals Court that any damages awarded to the plaintiff are not likely to exceed $25,000. Possible unpaid amounts of child support in the future may not currently be considered as part of the plaintiff's damages. See, e.g., Larson v. Larson, 30 Mass.App.Ct. 418, 426 (1991) ("later violations [by defendant of monthly payment obligations pursuant to divorce agreement] were not and could not have been raised in the original action because the times for payment had not yet occurred or given rise to any cause of action in favor of [plaintiff]"). See also 4 A. Corbin, Contracts § 956 (1951). It does not necessarily follow, however, that, in accordance with the rationale of Sperounes, the complaint in this case was required to be dismissed because the Superior Court's threshold amount in controversy had not been met. Rather, the presence of the equity claim, falling squarely within the Superior Court's broad equity jurisdiction, see G. L. c. 214, § 1,
We have previously stated that the intent or purpose of the one-trial system was to increase the efficacy of trials in the District and Superior Courts over the inefficient remand-removal system that had previously been in effect. See Sperounes, supra at 804-805. See also Ravnikar v. Bogojavlensky, 438 Mass. 627, 634 (2003); Herman v. Home Depot, 436 Mass. 210, 215 (2002). To that end, and in implicit recognition that the Superior Court already possessed jurisdiction over equity claims, the 2004 one-trial system enabling legislation, St. 2004, c. 252, § 8, amended G. L. c. 218, § 19C, to give the District Court "the same equitable powers and jurisdiction as is provided for the superior court pursuant to [G. L. c. 214] ... for the purpose of the hearing and disposition of ... civil actions for money damages under [§] 19 of this chapter." See Ravnikar v. Bogojavlensky, supra (describing earlier, geographically-limited iteration of the one-trial system: "Under the new one trial system ... the District Court may exercise the same equitable powers and jurisdiction as the Superior Court to resolve the entire case").
With this statutory purpose in mind, we turn to the issue of the plaintiff's equity claim. The single justice of the Appeals Court appears to have concluded that in light of the Superior Court's general equity jurisdiction, see G. L. c. 214, § 1, the Superior Court judge was authorized to hear the equitable claim and, to avoid duplication of effort, was obligated to exercise ancillary jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims for damages that were not likely to exceed $25,000. See Bushnell v. Bushnell, 393 Mass. 462, 467 (1984), citing Police Comm'r of Boston v. Municipal Court of the Dorchester Dist., 374 Mass. 640 (1978) (courts may consider and decide matters ancillary or incidental to main cause of action even if ancillary matter, standing on its own, would not be within court's original jurisdiction). While we agree that a Superior Court judge has the power to exercise ancillary jurisdiction over damages claims for less than the
This interpretation of the relevant statutes best serves the efficiency goal of the one-trial system, as it avoids the "anomalous situation of requiring bifurcated claims," Herman v. Home Depot, 436 Mass. at 215, and also gives full effect to both the Superior Court and the District Court one-trial system statutes. In particular, we think vesting the Superior Court judge with such discretion gives meaningful recognition to the fact that, as previously discussed, under G. L. c. 218, § 19C, the District Court has authority to decide equitable claims that are joined with claims for money damages of $25,000 or less.
At least with respect to Plastic Concepts and Thompson,
The judge's dismissal of the plaintiff's claims against Scott Zizza under rule 12 (b) (10) stands on somewhat different footing. Scott Zizza's motion to dismiss under rule 12 (b) (10) was filed after he had answered the plaintiff's complaint without raising this defense. Thus, it was not filed on a timely basis. See Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (h) (1), as appearing in 450 Mass. 1403 (2008).
Given this conclusion, there is a question whether we should remand the case to the Superior Court judge to consider whether he would exercise his discretion to dismiss the complaint against Scott Zizza. See, e.g., Scott v. NG U.S. 1, Inc., 450 Mass. 760, 773 (2008). However, in the circumstances of this case — where the parties had the opportunity to place their views on the dismissal issue before the judge and a hearing was held, and where the judge's order of dismissal clearly indicated his determination that dismissal of the claims against Scott Zizza was appropriate — we see no need for remand. Moreover, because we find no abuse of discretion in the judge's determination that the plaintiff's claims against Scott Zizza should be dismissed, we conclude that the order of dismissal should be affirmed.
3. Conclusion. The order of the single justice of the Appeals Court is reversed, and the matter is remanded to the Appeals Court for entry of an order affirming the Superior Court judgment of dismissal.
Before the addition in 2008 of rule 12 (b) (10) to the defenses set out in rule 12 (b), the defense of improper amount of damages was required to be raised in the answer. See Reporters' Notes to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (10), Mass. Ann. Laws, Rules of Civil Procedure, at 186 (LexisNexis 2008).