Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Employee was severely injured while traveling abroad on a business trip. Employer had purchased two workers’ compensation policies from two different insurers, the Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania (ISOP) and Great Northern Insurance Company (Great Northern). Both policies provided primary coverage. Employee pursued a workers’ compensation claim. Employer gave notice of the claim only to ISOP. ISOP began making payments pursuant to the policy and defended the claim. When ISOP learned that Employer also had workers’ compensation coverage under its Great Northern policy, ISOP filed a complaint against Great Northern seeking a judgment declaring that the doctrine of equitable contribution required Great Northern to pay one-half of the past and future defense costs and indemnity payments related to Employer’s claim. A federal district court granted summary judgment for Great Northern. ISOP appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court. The Court answered that, where two primary workers’ compensation insurance policies provide coverage for the same loss arising from an injury to an employee, the insurance company that pays that loss has a right of equitable contribution from the coinsurer, regardless of whether the insured gives notice of the injury only to one insurer. View "Ins. Co. of State of Penn. v. Great N. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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When Plaintiff retired in 2004 from his position as a sergeant with the Cambridge police department, he was issued a retired officer identification card that had no expiration date. In 2011, Plaintiff applied for the issuance of a replacement ID card because his had broken. The police commissioner of the city of Cambridge denied the application on the grounds that Defendant “ha[d] not met the standard set by the Department.” Plaintiff sued for declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial judge granted summary judgment for Plaintiff, determining that he was entitled to receive a replacement ID card because he had retired “in good standing.” The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, but for reasons different from those articulated by the judge, holding (1) the commissioner abused his discretion in finding that Plaintiff had not met the standard set by the Department, and (2) therefore, Plaintiff was entitled to receive a replacement ID card. View "Frawley v. Police Comm’r of Cambridge" on Justia Law

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Regency Transportation, Inc. is a Massachusetts S corporation that carries and delivers goods throughout the eastern United States. In 2010, the Commissioner of Revenue imposed a use tax on the full purchase price of each tractor and trailer in Regency’s fleet. The Commissioner subsequently denied Regency’s request for full abatement of the assessment. Regency appealed, arguing that the Commonwealth’s imposition of a use tax on vehicles engaged in interstate commerce violates the commerce and equal protection clauses of the Federal and State Constitutions. The Appellate Tax Board concluded that the motor vehicle use tax does not violate either the commerce or equal protection clauses. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that an unapportioned use tax imposed on Regency’s interstate fleet of vehicles does not violate the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution. View "Regency Transp., Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a married couple, filed an application with the Department of Children and Families for a license that would enable them to become foster and preadoptive parents. The Department denied the application because of Plaintiffs’ use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in their home. A hearing officer affirmed. Plaintiffs appealed, alleging that the Department’s decision was inconsistent with its regulations, was arbitrary and capricious, and was not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiffs also argued that the Department’s decision impermissibly infringed on their right to the free exercise of their religion under the Federal and State Constitutions because physical discipline is an integral aspect of their Christian faith. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department’s decision to deny Plaintiffs’ application was supported by substantial evidence, was not arbitrary or capricious, and was based on a reasonable interpretation of its enabling legislation; and (2) the substantial burden that the Department’s decision imposed on Plaintiffs’ sincerely held religions beliefs was outweighed by the Department’s compelling interest in protecting the welfare of foster children. View "Magazu v. Dep’t of Children and Families" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was found guilty of indecent assault and battery on a child under fourteen. While Plaintiff was still incarcerated, the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) recommended that Plaintiff be classified as a level three sex offender. Plaintiff challenged the recommendation. A SORB hearing officer determined by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff was appropriately classified as a level two offender. The superior court affirmed the level two classification. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was the standard of proof that the SORB must satisfy in order to classify a convicted sex offender under the provisions of the sex offender registry law. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the superior court affirming SORB’s classification of Plaintiff as a level two sex offender, holding that due process requires that a sex offender’s risk level be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Remanded for entry of an order to SORB to conduct an evidentiary hearing de novo under the heightened standard. View "Doe v. Sex Offender Registry Board" on Justia Law

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The town of Randolph bypassed Plaintiff, a police officer with the town, and appointed three candidates with lower scores on the police sergeant’s examination to its three open police sergeant positions. Plaintiff appealed. The Civil Service Commission dismissed the appeal. Plaintiff sought review of the Commission’s decision in the superior court. A superior court judge denied Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration and entered judgment for the Commission. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court’s denial of Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding (1) the record did not support the concern that the town’s flawed procedure for selecting candidates reflected a departure from basic merit principles; and (2) there was substantial evidence to support a reasonable justification for the town’s bypass. View "Sherman v. Town of Randolph" on Justia Law

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The Town of Hanover decided to bypass Plaintiff, a police officer with the town, and appoint two candidates with lower scores on the police sergeant’s examination to its open police sergeant positions. Plaintiff appealed the town’s decision to the Civil Service Commission, arguing that, pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 31, 2(b), where an appointing authority promotes a candidate other than the candidate ranked highest on the certification list, the promotion is not effective until the appointing authority’s statement of reasons for the bypass have been “received by the administrator” and that the administrator may not delegate that function to the town’s appointing authority. The Commission denied the appeal. A superior court judge allowed Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and and remanded the matter to the human resources division (HRD) to decide whether the bypass reasons should be approved. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment and remanded, holding (1) the administrator may delegate its administrative function to receive statements of reasons supporting bypass promotions, and it was practicable to do so in this case; and (2) the judge erred in remanding the matter to the HRD without conducting his own review of whether the Commission’s determination was supported by substantial evidence. View "Malloch v. Town of Hanover" on Justia Law

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John Doe was adjudicated a delinquent juvenile by reason of sex offenses and was committed to the Department of Youth Services. Defendant was later found to be a sexually dangerous person and was civilly committed for a period of from one day to life. Twenty years after Doe committed the offenses the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) classified him as a level three sex offender. Doe was later discharged from the treatment center based on the determination that he was no longer sexually dangerous. Doe brought this action contending, as relevant to this appeal, that the hearing examiner’s determination that he is a level three sex offender was unsupported by substantial evidence, in part because the evidence underlying the classification was stale where the hearing resulting in the final classification took place more than three years before Defendant’s discharge. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Doe and remanded the matter, holding that because Doe’s final classification was was not based on current evidence of the relevant risk factors, Doe was entitled to a new evidentiary hearing at which SORB will bear the burden of establishing Doe’s current risk of reoffense and dangerousness to the community. View "Doe, Sex Offender Registry Bd. No. 3839 v. Sex Offender Registry Bd." on Justia Law

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John Doe, Sex Offender Registry Board No. 7083, was serving a criminal sentence and had been civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person when the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) notified him of its recommendation that he be classified as a level three sex offender. When a classification hearing took place in February 2012 Doe’s earliest parole eligibility date was ten months away and a trial on Doe’s petition for discharged was eighteen months away. Doe requested that the classification hearing be continued or left open. The hearing examiner denied the requests and classified Doe as a level three sex offender. The superior court and appeals court affirmed. Doe appealed, arguing that, by scheduling the classification hearing based on his earliest possible parole eligibility date, the information relied on by the hearing examiner in reaching a classification decision will have become stale by the time Doe is released from confinement. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated SORB’s decision and the superior court’s order affirming that determination, holding that, because the 2012 classification of Doe as a level three sex offender will not reflect an evaluation of his current level of risk at the time of his discharge from the treatment center, the decision classifying Doe as a level three offender is invalid. View "Doe, Sex Offender Registry Bd. No. 7083 v. Sex Offender Registry Bd." on Justia Law

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George and Sandra Schussel filed no tax returns between 1989 and 2007. In 2007, George was convicted of federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges. Thereafter, the Commissioner of Revenue issued the Schussels a notice of failure to file Massachusetts income tax returns for the years 1993 to 1995. The Schussels filed tax returns for those years, but the Commissioner determined that the returns were “false or fraudulent” or to have been filed with an intent to evade taxes. Consequently, the Commissioner imposed a “double assessment” against the Schussels. The Commission denied the Schussels request for abatement of the double assessment. The Appellate Tax Board and the Appeals Court affirmed the Commissioner’s decisions. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Board’s findings of fact were supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Schussels’ claim that they were entitled to relief from the double assessment under an amnesty program established by the Commissioner in 2009 was not properly before the Court. View "Schussel v. Comm’r of Revenue" on Justia Law