Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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Here, the Supreme Judicial Court retained the law that an individual whose property is damaged by a neighbor’s healthy tree has no cause of action against a landowner of the property upon which the tree lies. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court judge dismissing Plaintiff’s claims of private nuisance and trespass against Defendants after a tree on Defendants’ property allegedly caused algae buildup on the roof of Plaintiff’s home. The judge dismissed Plaintiff’s claims as precluded by Ponte v. DaSilva, 388 Mass. 1008 (1983). The Appellate Division affirmed. On appeal, Plaintiff conceded that Ponte was controlling but asked that the Supreme Judicial Court overrule Ponte and related cases. The Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed the Massachusetts rule established in Ponte and related cases, concluding that the rule is not outdated and that there are multiple benefits to the rule. View "Shiel v. Rowell" on Justia Law

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For the same reasons stated in Rental Prop. Mgmt. Servs. v. Hatcher, 479 Mass. __ (2018), also decided today, the Supreme Judicial Court held that Fred Basile, a property manager, had no standing to bring a summary process action in his own name when he was neither the owner nor the lessor of the property. Basile brought this summary process action in the name of his sole proprietorship seeking to evict a tenant from a property for which Basile was neither the owner nor the lessor. The tenant asserted counterclaims for the unauthorized practice of law and violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. The trial judge enjoined Basile from commencing summary process actions such as the one in this case but entered judgment in favor of Basile on the chapter 93A counterclaims. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Basile had no standing to bring the summary process action; (2) to the extent Basile was acting as the agent of the property owner, he engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by signing and filing the complaint because he was not an attorney; and (3) Basile’s conduct on its own did not constitute an unfair or deceptive practice in violation of chapter 93A. View "Ahmed-Kagzi v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Fred Basile, a property manager, had no standing to bring a summary process action in the name of his sole proprietorship seeking to evict a tenant from a property for which Basile was neither the owner nor the lessor. To the extent that Basile was acting on behalf of the property’s true owner when he filed the complaint, his conduct constituted the unauthorized practice of law because Basile was not an attorney. The Supreme Judicial Court further held (1) where the plaintiff in a summary process action is not the property’s owner or lessor, the complaint must be dismissed with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; (2) where the plaintiff is the true owner or lessor but the complaint has been signed and filed by another non-attorney person, the court may either dismiss the complaint without prejudice based on the unauthorized practice of law or allow the plaintiff to retain counsel or proceed pro se; and (3) where a plaintiff seeks to evict a tenant without the standing to do so, or where a person who is not authorized to practice law signs and files a summary process complaint, and where that conduct is not inadvertent, a court has the inherent authority to impose appropriate sanctions. View "Rental Property Management Services v. Hatcher" on Justia Law

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A condominium bylaw providing that the condominium trust’s board of trustees cannot bring any litigation involving the common areas and facilities against anyone other than a unit owner unless they first obtain the consent of at least eighty percent of the unit owners is void because it contravenes public policy. The board of trustees in this case filed suit against the condominium’s developers for damages arising from certain design and construction defects in the condominium’s common areas and facilities. The trustees also sought a judgment declaring that a bylaw requiring a percentage of unit owners to consent to litigation before litigation is filed by the trustees was void. A motion judge concluded that the bylaw was not prohibited. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the lower court and held that the provision of the bylaws at issue was void as contravening public policy. View "Trustees of Cambridge Point Condominium Trust v. Cambridge Point, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the trial court rendering judgment on a jury’s verdict finding that Plaintiffs’ claim for damages to Plaintiffs’ property under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 21E, 5(a)(iii) was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 21E, 11A(4). Plaintiffs filed their claims against the city of Lowell for the release of hazardous materials at a condominium site. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) a plaintiff must be on notice that he or she has a claim under section 5(a)(iii) before that claim may be time barred, and such notice is separate from a plaintiff’s notice that environmental contamination has occurred; and (2) Plaintiffs in this case could not know that they had a claim under section 5 before the date the City filed its Phase II/Phase III report pursuant to the Massachusetts Contingency Plan, and therefore, the statute of limitations issues should not have been presented to the jury. View "Grand Manor Condominium Ass’n v. City of Lowell" on Justia Law

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The language in the reverse mortgages at issue in this case incorporated the statutory power of sale as set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183, 21 and allowed the Mortgagee to foreclose on the mortgaged property in accordance with the requirements in section 21. Three Homeowners obtained loans from Mortgagee secured by reverse mortgages on their homes. Later, alleging default, Mortgagee sought to foreclose on the mortgages. Mortgagee brought separate actions against each borrower or the executors of their estate seeking a declaratory judgment allowing it to foreclose pursuant to the statutory power of sale. The trial judge granted Mortgagee’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, concluding that Mortgagee’s reverse mortgage incorporated the statutory power of sale by reference. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the language of Mortgagee’s reverse mortgages incorporated the statutory power of sale as defined in section 21. View "James B. Nutter & Co. v. Estate of Murphy" on Justia Law

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Cities and towns may exercise their zoning authority to determine whether land in their communities may be used as a noncommercial private restricted landing area (in this case, a private heliport). Here, the Land Court judge concluded that he was constrained to apply the Appeals Court’s holding in Hanlon v. Sheffield, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 392 (2016), which interpreted Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 39B to provide that a town may not enforce a zoning bylaw that would prohibit a private landowner from creating a noncommercial private restricted landing area on his property unless the bylaw had been approved by the Department of Transportation (division). The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the Land Court, holding that there is no clear legislative intent to preempt local zoning enactments with respect to noncommercial private restricted landing areas, and cities and towns do not need the prior approval of the division to enforce a zoning bylaw that requires some form of approval, variance, or special permit for land to be used as a private heliport. View "Roma, III, Ltd. v. Board of Appeals of Rockport" on Justia Law

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At issue was the Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) denial of Plaintiff’s application for a comprehensive permit to develop a mixed-income project. Plaintiff owned parcel of land in an area zoned for limited manufacturing use. The site was subject to a restrictive covenant owned by the city of Newton, and the city owned an abutting parcel with a deed restriction requiring that it be used only for conservation, parkland, or recreational use. Plaintiff sought to amend the deed restriction to allow a residential use at the site and to permit construction in the nonbuild zone. The ZBA denied Plaintiff’s permit application, concluding that it lacked authority to amend the deed restriction, an interest in land held by the city. The Department of Housing and Community Development (HAC) affirmed. Plaintiff sought judicial review. A land court judge granted Defendants’ motions for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the HAC does not have authority to order the city to relinquish its property interest. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the negative easement is a property interest in land, and the ZBA does not have authority modify certain types of property interests in land; and (2) the restrictive covenant is not invalid where the restrictions provide valuable interests to the city. View "135 Wells Avenue, LLC v. Housing Appeals Committee" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether municipal parkland may be protected by Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution where the land was not taken by eminent domain and where there is no restriction recorded in the registry of deeds that limits its use to conservation or recreational purposes. The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, provided the land has been dedicated as a public park. Further, a municipality dedicates land as a public park where there is a clear and unequivocal intent to dedicate the land permanently as a public park and where the public accepts such use by actually using the land as a public park. Given this conclusion, the park in this case was dedicated by the city as a public park such that the transfer of its use from a park to a school would require legislative approval under the prior public use doctrine and, thus, under article 97. View "Smith v. City of Westfield" on Justia Law

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Neither the grant in an irrevocable trust of a right of occupancy and use in a primary residence to an applicant nor the retention of a life estate by the applicant in the applicant’s primary residence makes the equity in the home owned by the trust a countable asset for the purpose of determining Medicaid eligibility for long-term care benefits under the Federal Medicaid Act. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court in these two cases was whether applicants were eligible for long-term care benefits under the Act Act where they created an irrevocable trust and deeded their home - their primary asset - to the trust but retained the right to use and reside in the home for the rest of their life. The Director of the Massachusetts Office of Medicaid (MassHealth) found that the applicants were not eligible for long-term care benefits. The superior court upheld MassHealth’s determinations. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgments in both cases because MassHealth found that the equity in both homes was a “countable” asset whose value exceeded the asset eligibility limitation under the Act. View "Daley v. Secretary of Executive Office of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law