Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Deutsche Bank, seeking a declaratory judgment that the bank's foreclosure of the mortgage on plaintiff's home was invalid and seeking to quiet title to the property. The superior court granted the bank's motion to dismiss. The court concluded, as did the trial court judge, that a foreclosing mortgagee's failure to comply with G. L. c. 244, § 15A, by failing to send the postforeclosure notices required by the statute, does not render the foreclosure void. In this case, where the provision in question does not set forth preforeclosure requirements that are a part of the foreclosure process, the Bank's failure to comply with section 15A's postforeclosure notice provisions did not render the foreclosure void. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Turra v. Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas" on Justia Law

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In 1971, the City of Quincy, as trustee of the Adams Temple and School Fund (Adams Fund), sought a decree authorizing it to execute a proposed fifty-year lease of a building and parking lot of the Adams Academy that it had negotiated with the Quincy Historical Society (Society). In 1972, a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court decreed that the City was authorized to execute the proposed lease. In 2014, the successor trustee of the Adams Fund (Plaintiff) filed a complaint seeking rescission of the lease and money damages, arguing that the City violated its fiduciary duty to the Woodward School for Girls, Inc., the sole income beneficiary of the Adams Fund, by executing the lease. Defendants, the City and the Society, moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to judgment under res judicata. The single justice allowed Defendants’ motion. Plaintiff appealed, contending that he should not be precluded by res judicata from obtaining relief because neither he nor the Woodward School was a party to the 1972 equity proceeding. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff was precluded by res judicata from prevailing on his challenge to the execution of the lease. View "DeGiacomo v. City of Quincy" on Justia Law

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Defendant owned and managed a nature preserve on Martha’s Vineyard compromised of parcels of land owned by Defendant. In 2010, Defendant created a hiking trail through the preserve that crossed over Plaintiffs’ property via an easement. The trail proceeded across three parcels of Defendant’s land for whose benefit the easement was created and then entered a fourth parcel owned by Defendant that was not intended to benefit from the easement. Plaintiffs filed an action to prevent Defendant from using the easement as part of the hiking trial, arguing that the bright-line rule in Murphy v. Mart Realty of Brockton, Inc. disallows any use of an easement to benefit land to which the easement is not appurtenant. On that basis, a land court judge granted partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. Defendant appealed, arguing that the bright-line rule in Murphy is overly rigid and suggested, instead, that the Court adopt a fact-intensive inquiry considering whether the use of an easement to benefit other parcels would increase unfairly the burden on the easement. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed and thus declined to adopt Defendant’s suggestion, holding that the benefits of preserving the bright-line rule set forth in Murphy outweigh any costs associated with its rigidity. View "Taylor v. Martha's Vineyard Land Bank Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was the defendant in a summary process action in the Housing Court. In 1993, the Appeals Court affirmed. In the years since then, Petitioner repeatedly sought to challenge the foreclosure that led to the summary process action, without success. In 2015, Petitioner filed a motion seeking to vacate the Appeals Court’s 1993 decision. The Appeals Court denied relief. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 in the county court. A single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner failed to prosecute her appeal, and therefore, her appeal could be dismissed on this basis alone; and (2) Petitioner’s claims failed on the merits. View "Eresian v. Merrill Lynch Credit Corp." on Justia Law

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Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 148, 26I, the residential sprinkler provision, mandates the installation of automatic sprinklers in certain buildings. Plaintiff, the owner of two vacant apartment buildings that he intended to return to occupancy, argued that the rehabilitation he undertook to the buildings did not trigger the requirement that sprinklers be installed. The City of Holyoke’s fire chief ordered that automatic sprinkler systems be installed in each building. McLaurin then filed these complaints seeking relief in the nature of certiorari and declaratory, arguing that the orders were arbitrary and capricious. A judge of the Housing Court affirmed the chief’s orders. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment affirming the fire chief’s decision, holding that the Housing Court judge was not in a position to ascertain whether the decision was legally erroneous or arbitrary and capricious. Remanded to the fire chief for further proceedings. View "MacLaurin v. City of Holyoke" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed an action to quiet title, alleging that a railroad easement formerly owned by the Pennsylvania Central Transportation Co. across portions of their lands was abandoned by the United States Railway Association by virtue of its non designation for transfer to the Consolidated Rail Corporation in a final plan system. The land court dismissed without prejudice Plaintiffs’ action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that a certificate of abandonment from the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) was necessary before a state court could exercise jurisdiction to determine state law claims regarding easements and that STB’s jurisdiction was exclusive and primary. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the land court did not err in determining that the question of abandonment in this case remained in the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government and, therefore, the land court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ action. View "Murray v. Dep’t of Conservation & Recreation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was the owner and occupant of certain property. Defendant, the owner of a parcel of land abutting Plaintiff’s property, planned to build a residence on the property and applied for a building permit. The town building commissioner determined that the property had grandfathered status as a nonconforming lot. Plaintiff’s wife applied for a hearing. The zoning board of appeals of Westminster upheld the building commissioner’s determination. Plaintiff, as the personal representative of his wife’s estate, commenced this action claiming injury to his private easement right. The superior court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint for lack of standing, concluding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the construction proposed by Defendant would cause him any injury within the scope and concern of the Zoning Act. The appeals court reversed and concluded that Defendant’s property did not enjoy grandfathered status under the Westminster zoning by-law. The Supreme Judicial Court granted further appellate review and affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that Plaintiff’s injuries to his private easement rights were not within the scope and concern of the Zoning Act. View "Picard v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Westminster" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeal for the First Circuit certified two questions of state law to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The questions arose in the context of a bankruptcy proceeding, and concerned the power and effect of an affidavit of an attorney, executed pursuant to G.L. c. 183 section 5B, in relation to a mortgage containing a defective certificate of acknowledgement. The first question centered on whether, pursuant to the statute, a recorded mortgage omitting the name of the mortgagor, a material defect of that mortgage. The second question centered on whether the recording of that allegedly defective mortgages provides constructive notice of the mortgage to a bona fide purchaser, either independently or in combination with the mortgage. The Massachusetts Supreme Court answered both questions "yes." View "Bank of America, N.A. v. Casey" on Justia Law

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Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations require that those deemed to be liable after a spill of hazardous materials within a specified radius of a public water supply undertake cleanup and monitoring to ensure the spill does not pose a danger to that water supply, 310 Code Mass. Regs. 40.0801, 40.0810, 40.0993(3)(a), 40.1030(2)(e). A 2007 modification exempts "oil" from some requirements when specific conditions are met, 310 Code Mass. Regs. 40.0924(2)(b)(3)(a). Peterborough owns a now-vacant Athol property, within a protection area, where it operated a gasoline station for more than 10 years. In 1994, a release of leaded gasoline from a subterranean gasoline storage tank was detected in soil on the site. DEP required Peterborough to undertake supervised cleanup and monitoring activities. In 2008, after the oil exemption was established, Peterborough submitted a revised plan, stating that further remediation was not required because the entirety of the spill fell within the exemption's definition of "oil." DEP responded that the meaning of "oil" in the exemption does not include gasoline additives such as lead, but refers only to petroleum hydrocarbons naturally occurring in oils, so that a spill of leaded gasoline could not be completely excluded from further remediation. The trial court, on summary judgment, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, upheld the DEP interpretation of the regulation as reasonable. View "Peterborough Oil Co., LLC v. Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) filed a complaint for summary process in the Housing Court to establish its right to possession of the Rego house, which Fannie Mae purchased at a foreclosure sale. The Regos argued that the foreclosure sale conducted by GMAC, which held the mortgage, was void because GMAC's attorneys had not been authorized by a prior writing to undertake the actions set forth in G. L. 244, 14. They also asserted an equitable defense and counterclaims. The judge granted Fannie Mae summary judgment "as to possession only," and scheduled a bench trial on the counterclaims, but later dismissed the counterclaims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated. The foreclosure suffered no defect on the asserted ground that GMAC failed to provide such authorization to its attorneys, but the Housing Court has limited authorization to entertain counterclaims and an equitable defense to the foreclosure sale in the summary process action. View "Fed. Nat'l Mortgage Ass'n v. Rego" on Justia Law