Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the underlying judgment of the Housing Court in this summary process eviction action awarding possession to Landlord, holding that Tenant's appeals regarding his requests for disabilities accommodations in the Appeals Court and in the single justice session were moot.After a bench trial the Housing Court judge awarded possession to Landlord but granted Tenant a reasonable accommodation in the form of a limited stay of execution. On appeal, Tenant requested disabilities accommodations from the Appeals Court, some of which were granted. Tenant also filed a petition in the county court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, which a single justice denied. The appeals were consolidated. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Tenant's claims arising from the denial of requested disabilities accommodations in the Appeals Court and in the single justice session of this Court were moot. View "Saipe v. Sullivan & Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the traditional but-for factual causation standard is the appropriate standard to be employed in medical malpractice cases, including those involving multiple alleged causes, and discontinued the use of the substantial factor test, which the Court concluded was unnecessarily confusing.Plaintiffs brought this suit claiming negligence, failure to obtain informed consent and loss of consortium after their family member died from complications arising from chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension. The jury returned a verdict for Defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the challenged instructions in this case were proper because the jury was instructed using traditional but-for causation principles. View "Doull v. Foster" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying Defendant's motion for credit for time he served on a drug conviction that was vacated after the scandal at the State Laboratory Institute in Amherst at the campus of the University of Massachusetts was revealed, holding that Defendant was not entitled to mandatory credit in this case.In 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered the vacated and dismissal with prejudice of thousands of drug convictions that relied on substances tested at the Amherst lab during certain periods of Sonja Farak's employment as a chemist at the lab. That same year, Defendant filed a motion for jail credit in his 2017 criminal case. The judge denied the motion, concluding that Defendant was not entitled to credit because government misconduct at a drug laboratory was not equally compelling to actual innocence. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant was not owed credit toward his conviction. View "Commonwealth v. Caliz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions three counts of murder in the first degree and concluded that Defendant was not entitled to relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial judge erred by giving a charge in accordance with Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 364 Mass. 87 (1973), and Commonwealth v. Tuey, 8 Cush. 1, 2-3, to an individual juror after the jury had been polled, but the error was not prejudicial; (2) some the trial judge's rulings admitting prior bad acts evidence were in error, but the errors were not prejudicial; (3) the judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting coventurer statements; (4) certain remarks made by the prosecutor in opening and closing arguments were in error, but the error was not prejudicial; (5) the trial judge did not err by denying Defendant's motion to suppress; and (6) this Court declines to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to order a new trial or direct the entry of verdicts of a lesser degree of guilt. View "Commonwealth v. Chalue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions of murder in the first degree and armed assault with intent to murder and affirmed Defendant's conviction of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, holding that the evidence was insufficient to support the murder conviction and the assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon convictions.At trial, the Commonwealth proceeded on a theory that Defendant had initiated a gunfight with codefendant Keith Williams and was therefore liable for harm to innocent bystanders. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the convictions in part, holding (1) there was insufficient evidence to convict Defendant of murder in the first degree; (2) the Commonwealth failed to introduce sufficient evidence to support Defendant's conviction of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon; and (3) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "Commonwealth v. Colas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 79, the so-called "quick take" statute, permits a property owner to both accept a pro tanto payment for an eminent domain taking and simultaneously challenge the validity of the underlying taking.Plaintiff argued that Defendant, the City of Cambridge, must immediately tender him the full amount of the pro tanto payment because the quick take statute does not condition his acceptance of the pro tanto payment on waiving his right to challenge the City's taking of his real property. The superior court denied Plaintiff's motion to compel payment of the pro tanto amount, but a single justice in the Appeals Court vacated that decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the quick take statute does not condition a property owner's acceptance of the pro tanto payment under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 79, 8A on waiving her or his right to contest the validity of the taking under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 79, 18. View "Abuzahra v. City of Cambridge" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated some of Defendant's convictions, holding that the case must be remanded for an evidentiary hearing as to Defendant's motion to suppress and a determination as to whether the first prong of the independent source exception to the exclusionary rule applied.Following two separate jury trials in the Superior Court in Norfolk County and Middlesex County Defendant was convicted of multiple offenses stemming from a burglary spree. Before trial, Defendant moved to suppress evidence seized from his residence during the execution of a search warrant, asserting that the warrant was tainted by discoveries made during an earlier unlawful entry of his residence. The motion judges agreed that the initial entry was unauthorized but that, pursuant to the independent source rule, the evidence was exempt from exclusion as "fruit of the poisonous tree." The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's Middlesex convictions with the exception of his conviction for intimidation of a witness, holding that because the matter of whether the evidence demonstrated that the detective would not have sought the warrant had the officers not made the initial illegal entry, the matter must be remanded for an evidentiary hearing. View "Commonwealth v. Pearson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision of the superior court granting a new trial in this criminal case after concluding that the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant's murder conviction on a theory of joint venture felony-murder, holding that granting Defendant's motion for a new trial was error.Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree, armed robbery, and kidnapping. The court of appeals affirmed. More than forty years later, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial on the murder indictment, arguing that the Commonwealth presented insufficient evidence for the felony-murder conviction. The superior court judge granted the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the motion judge had authority to consider the sufficiency of the evidence following the Supreme Judicial Court's 33E plenary review on direct appeal; but (2) Defendant was estopped from raising the claim that the evidence was insufficient for the jury to have found that Defendant was a joint venturer in the armed robbery. View "Commonwealth v. Watkins (No. 1)" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the superior court judge affirming the decision of a hearing officer upholding MassHealth's denial of Plaintiff's application for Medicaid benefits on the grounds that Plaintiff's life estate interest in certain property as a beneficiary rendered Plaintiff ineligible for long-term care benefits, holding that Plaintiff's life estate was not a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes.Plaintiff created a trust and transferred her home to the trust. Plaintiff had a life estate interest in the property under the trust, and the other five beneficiaries - her children - had a remainder interest as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. After Plaintiff moved to a long-term nursing facility she applied for long-term benefits from MassHealth. MassHealth denied the application, determining that Plaintiff's countable assets exceeded the $2,000 limit. A hearing officer and a superior court judge affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the trust was a nominee trust and not a true trust, Plaintiff's only interest in the property was a life estate; and (2) it was error to include the value of the property as an asset in Plaintiff's Medicaid eligibility determination. View "Guilfoil v. Secretary of Executive Office of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice of the court denying Petitioner's petition filed pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief.Petitioner was charged with solicitation to commit a crime stemming from an incident involving an informant that occurred while Petitioner was incarcerated. During the trial court proceedings, Petitioner filed two motions seeking discovery related to the informant and an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the Department of Correction was a third party. The trial court judge denied both motions. Petitioner then filed his Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition asking the single justice to vacate the trial court's orders denying his discovery-related motions. The single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that because Petitioner could seek review of any error in the normal appellate process the single justice properly denied relief. View "Quinones v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law