Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty, holding that the errors that occurred during the trial did not require a new trial.On appeal, Defendant argued that she was prejudiced from the Commonwealth's use of prior bad act evidence. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) some of the challenged evidence should not have been admitted, but there was no abuse of discretion int he judge's conclusion that the probative value of the evidence was not outweighed by its prejudicial effect; (2) the prosecutor's reliance on the prior bad act evidence in closing arguments was improper, but the improprieties did not so infuse the trial with unfairness as to deny due process of law; and (3) a reduction in the verdict pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E would not serve the interests of justice. View "Commonwealth v. Peno" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the denial of the motions to suppress filed by Nelson Mora and Ricky Suarez, holding that the continuous, long-term pole camera surveillance targeted at the residences of Mora and Suarez was a search under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.Using video footage collected by hidden video cameras on public telephone and electrical poles (pole cameras) the Commonwealth secured indictments against twelve defendants, including Mora and Suarez. Eight defendants moved to suppress the pole camera footage and evidence derived from that footage as the fruits of an unreasonable search. The superior court denied the motions, concluding that the pole camera surveillance did not constitute a search. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed as to Mora and Suarez and remanded the matter to the superior court for further proceedings, holding that the warrantless surveillance of Mora's and Suarez's residences for more than two months was a "search" under article 14. View "Commonwealth v. Mora" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the State Ballot Law Commission (SBLC) preventing Helen Brady from appearing on the September 1, 2020 State primary election ballot and ordered the Secretary to place Brady's name on the ballot, holding that the electronic filing process utilized by Brady complied with the substance of the material requirements of the decision in Goldstein v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 484 Mass. 516, 531-532 (2020).The SBLC struck all of the certified signatures that Brady, who sought to appear on the ballot for the Republican nomination for the office of United States representative for the Ninth Congressional District in Massachusetts, had secured from voters. Brady had gathered all of her voter signatures electronically and collected the required minimum number of signatures. The SBLC struck all of Brady's signatures on the ground that Brady failed to comply with the Goldstein process. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the SBLC decision, holding that the electronic signature gathering process Brady utilized complied in substance with the material requirements of Goldstein. View "Brady v. State Ballot Law Commission" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the single justice denying Plaintiff's motion asking the single justice to find Defendants and the superior court in contempt of a Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 4A transfer order, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion in denying the motion for contempt.Plaintiff filed a complaint in the county court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and damages against the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) based on a claim of housing discrimination. The single justice transferred the complaint to the superior court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 4A. From there, the case was removed to the federal court. The federal court dismissed the claims against HUD and remanded the claims against the BHA to the superior court. Plaintiff then filed a motion in the county court asking the single justice to find Defendants and the superior court in contempt of the transfer order. The single justice denied the motion without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice correctly denied the motion for contempt. View "Linardon v. United States Department of Housing & Urban Development" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Defendant's motion to compel arbitration of Plaintiff's claims that Defendant had engaged in improper debt collection practices and debt collection regulations, holding that there was no error in the denial of Defendant's motion to compel arbitration.Plaintiff allegedly owed debt to Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company of Boston, LLC for damage to a rental vehicle. Enterprise assigned the debt to Defendant for collection. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against Defendant, alleging that Defendant made too frequent phone contact with him and other debtors. Defendant sought to compel arbitration of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the rental contract between Plaintiff and Enterprise. The superior court denied the motion to compel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that reasonable minds could differ as to whether the arbitration provision in the contract was applicable to claims brought against Defendant, and therefore, Defendant did not put forth the clear and definite evidence of intent that it must to be entitled to enforce the arbitration provision as a third-party beneficiary. View "Landry v. Transworld Systems Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court granting summary judgment to Northeastern University on Plaintiff's negligence-related claims stemming from a nonconsensual encounter with a fellow student, holding that, under the circumstances, Northeastern had no duty to protect Plaintiff.In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Northeastern negligently failed to prevent and contributed to the occurrence of the sexual assault. Plaintiff further asserted tort, contract, and statutory claims alleging that Northeastern failed adequately to respond to the incident. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) a special student-university relationship between Plaintiff and Northeastern existed, but Northeastern owed no duty to protect Plaintiff because Northeastern could not reasonably have foreseen that, absent some intervention on its part, Plaintiff would be subjected to a criminal act or other harm; and (2) there was no error in the motion judge's conclusions regarding Plaintiff's statutory or contract claims. View "Helfman v. Northeastern University" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the superior court judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress statements he made to police officers, holding that Defendant was not subjected to custodial interrogation while speaking with the police officers and that the statements were otherwise voluntary.Defendant was placed under arrest for the removal of human remains from the Worcester cemetery. Defendant filed a motion to suppress statements he made to Hartford police officers, arguing that the statements were made under custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings and that they were involuntary. The motion judge allowed the motion to suppress. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant was not in custody when he made his statements to the police officers, and therefore, Miranda warnings were not required; and (2) there was no indication that Defendant's statements were involuntarily made. View "Commonwealth v. Medina" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for murder in the first degree, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below, and there was no reason for the Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the verdict or to order a new trial.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the motion judge did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress his statement to the police; (2) an indisputably gruesome photograph should not have been admitted into evidence, but there was no cause to disturb the verdict; (3) there was no error in the absence of a sua sponte instruction on lost evidence; (4) the judge did not err in admitting into evidence two knives; (5) certain statements in the prosecutor's closing argument were improper, but the improprieties did not require a new trial; and (6) there were no grounds on which to reduce the degree of guilt or to order a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Walters" on Justia Law

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On appeal from a federal appellate court's decision that the Federal Medicare scheme prohibits State Medicaid agencies, including MassHealth, from receiving funds from Medicare, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered that this case be remanded for modification of the declaratory judgment, holding that MassHealth demonstrated a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant modification to allow MassHealth to seek reimbursement where the liable third party is Medicare.In Atlanticare Medical Center v. Commissioner of the Division of Medical Assistance, 439 Mass. 1, 3, 5 (2003) (Altanticare I), the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the Federal Medicaid scheme tasked the State Medicaid agency, not individual providers, with seeking reimbursement from liable third-party insurers, including Medicare. When the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) refused to issue reimbursements from Medicare to MassHealth, MassHealth brought suit. In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the Federal Medicare scheme prohibited MassHealth from receiving funds from Medicare. Therefore, a Federal Medicare regulation was amended to acknowledge the practice of State Medicaid agencies obtaining Medicare reimbursements through providers, rather than seeking such reimbursements directly from Medicare. MassHealth sought to modify the declaratory judgment and restore its ability to obtain reimbursements from providers, rather than liable third parties. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case for modification of the judgment, holding that changed circumstances required modification. View "Atlanticare Medical Center v. Division of Medical Assistance" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order granting judgment to Plaintiffs on their claims under the Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148, 150, and the Prevailing Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 26-27H, on the ground that by violating the Prevailing Wage Act, Defendants violated the Wage Act as well, holding that Plaintiffs may not avoid the limitations that the Prevailing Wage Act places on their recovery by pursuing an otherwise duplicative claim under the Wage Act.Plaintiffs asserted that for several years they were paid less than the wages required by the Prevailing Wage Act. The motion judge granted partial summary judgment for Plaintiffs, concluding that Defendants' "chronic underpayment" of Plaintiffs constituted a plain violation of the Prevailing Wage Act and that Defendants' failure to pay Plaintiffs at the prescribed wage rates also constituted a violation of the Wage Act. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order allowing Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, holding that, whereas the Prevailing Wage Act and the Wage Act provide conflicting mechanisms to recover the same underpayment of wages, Plaintiffs may, in this instance, recover solely under the Prevailing Wage Act. View "Donis v. American Waste Services, LLC" on Justia Law