Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Following a series of disciplinary reprimands and suspensions for misconduct, Plaintiff was removed from her positions as an assistant clerk-magistrate of the Salem Division of the District Court Department. Plaintiff brought this action challenging her removal, arguing that the decision to remove her exceeded the clerk-magistrate’s statutory authority, was arbitrary or capricious, and violated her due process rights. The superior court upheld the removal decision. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that it was appropriate for the clerk-magistrate to factor in the whole of Plaintiff’s disciplinary record in terminating her, and therefore, the clerk-magistrate’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious, due process was satisfied, and Plaintiff demonstrated no deviation from the governing statute or rules. View "Perullo v. Advisory Committee on Personnel Standards" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Zurich American Insurance Co. committed unfair claim settlement practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D, 3(9)(f) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 2. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that Zurich violated these statutory provisions when it conditioned the payment of its primary insurance policy limit on a release of all claims against its insureds, notwithstanding the availability of excess insurance. The superior court judge concluded that Zurich was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it did not engage in unfair claim settlement practices. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Zurich did not engage in unfair claim settlement practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D, 3(9)(f) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 2. View "Caira v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with offenses arising from alleged domestic violence. The Commonwealth and Defendant filed motions in limine regarding the admissibility of a record of a 911 call placed by the son of Defendant and the alleged victim. Defendant argued that the boy’s statements - including, “my dad just choked my mom” - were not excited utterances and that their admission would violate his right of confrontation right. The judge concluded that the statements were not excited utterances because the boy’s voice on the recording sounded “calm.” A single justice vacated the judge’s order excluding the recording. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the question is not whether the declarant shows “excitement,” but, rather, whether the declarant was acting spontaneously under the influence of the incident at the time the statements were made, and not reflexively. Remanded. View "Commonwealth v. Baldwin" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of raping his nineteen-year-old stepdaughter, Sally. Defendant and Sally’s mother were married. The Appeals Court reversed, concluding that Sally was precluded from testifying about a private marital conversation between her mother and Defendant, the substance of which Sally’s mother had purportedly disclosed to her. Specifically, at trial, the mother denied that she told Sally that Defendant had confessed to the crime in a private conversation between the parties. To impeach the mother, however, Sally was permitted to testify to the contrary. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed Defendant’s conviction on other grounds, holding that the admission of this highly prejudicial evidence created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Garcia" on Justia Law
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A complaint issued charging Defendant with misleading a police officer. The charge arose from Defendant’s act of picking up a small bag of what was believed to be heroin and swallowing it in full view of a police officer. A municipal court judge dismissed the count. The Appeals Court vacated the dismissal. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the trial court judge allowing the motion to dismiss, holding (1) misleading conduct within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 268, 13B is conduct that is intended to create a false impression such that it was reasonably likely to send investigators in the wrong direction; and (2) in the instant case, Defendant’s actions were not misleading within the meaning of the statute. View "Commonwealth v. Tejeda" on Justia Law
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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty, and armed home invasion. After filing a notice of appeal, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial arguing that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to investigate and present a defense of lack of criminal responsibility. Defendant also filed a second motion for a new trial. The trial court denied Defendant’s two motions for a new trial. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions and the orders denying the motions for a new trial and declined to reduce the verdict or grant a new trial, holding (1) the trial judge did not err in denying Defendant’s first motion for a new trial, as trial counsel’s decision to forgo further investigation of a lack of criminal responsibility defense based on mental illness was not error; and (2) Defendant’s remaining claims of error were either procedurally waived or without merit. View "Commonwealth v. Holland" on Justia Law

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For the first decade of his employment with the Boston police department, Plaintiff was a patrol officer performing the full range of patrol officer duties. The department later placed Plaintiff on administrative duty due to his loss of cognitive function and memory and his “neuropsychological problem of speed and accuracy.” The Boston Patrolmen’s Association subsequently filed a grievance on Plaintiff’s behalf demanding that he be permitted to resume the duties of a patrol officer. An arbitrator found that the Department did not act unreasonably in placing Plaintiff on administrative duty. Plaintiff filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city. The motion judge allowed the city’s motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that summary judgment was not appropriate because there were facts in dispute as to whether Plaintiff was a qualified handicapped person capable of performing the full duties of a patrol officer without posing an unacceptably significant risk of serious injury to himself or others. View "Gannon v. City of Boston" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a veteran of the United States Army, was arraigned in the district court on charges of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (OUI), second offense; possession of heroin; negligent operation of a motor vehicle; and leaving the scene of property damage. Defendant sought pretrial diversion under the VALOR Act. Defendant subsequently filed a motion pursuant to the pretrial diversion statute seeking dismissal of all charges should the pretrial diversion program prove successful. The prosecutor opposed the motion. Acknowledging that the case presented an unsettled question of law, the judge reported the following two questions to the Appeals Court. The Supreme Judicial Court allowed Defendant’s application for direct appellate review and held (1) under the pretrial diversion statute, as amended by the VALOR Act, a judge is authorized to dismiss or to continue criminal charges without a finding upon a defendant’s successful completion of an approved pretrial diversion program; and (2) the pretrial diversion statute, as amended by the VALOR Act, vests judges with discretion to either continue without a finding or to dismiss a charge of OUI in appropriate cases that involve charges of OUI, second or subsequent offense. View "Commonwealth v. Morgan" on Justia Law
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In 2005, a few weeks after Child was born, Child's Grandmother was appointed as Child’s permanent guardian and has remained so ever since. Mother filed this removal proceeding challenging the guardianship arrangement. In 2016, Child, through counsel, filed a motion to appoint counsel for her guardian. The motion was denied. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case to the probate and family court for further proceedings, holding (1) a guardian who has a de facto parent relationship with her ward does not have a liberty interest in that relationship such that she has a procedural due process right to counsel; but (2) a probate and family court judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, grant a motion requesting counsel for a guardian in a removal proceeding where the judge concludes that doing so would materially assist in determining the best interests of the child. View "In re Guardianship of K.N." on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theory of deliberate premeditation. Defendant was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction and the order denying his motion for a new trial and declined to grant relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding (1) Defendant’s trial counsel did not render ineffective assistance by failing to request a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter; (2) the trial court did not commit reversible error by declining Defendant’s request to give instructions on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; and (3) the absence of these instructions did not constitute error requiring reversal of Defendant’s conviction and a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Felix" on Justia Law
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