Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Petitioners owned thirty-six acres of land in Hampden. The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Division), a unit of the Department of Environmental Protection, restricted Petitioners’ ability to construct a home on their land by delineating the property as a “priority habitat” for the eastern box turtle, a “species of special concern” under 321 Mass. Code Regs. 10.90. Petitioners challenged the validity of the priority habitat regulations insofar as they allowed the Division to designate priority habitat without affording landowners the procedural protections due under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) to those owning property within significant habitats. The superior court entered summary judgment in favor of the Division, concluding that the regulations did not exceed the scope of the Division’s authority as granted by MESA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the priority habitat regulations were a reasonable implementation of the enabling statute. View "Pepin v. Div. of Fisheries & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) assessed a penalty against Plaintiff for improper handling and disposal of roof shingles that contained asbestos. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that, pursuant to the Administrative Penalties Act, it was entitled to a notice of noncompliance and the opportunity to cure any violations before the imposition of a penalty. The commissioner of the DEP affirmed the penalty after accepting the recommendation of a hearing officer, finding that Plaintiff's failure to comply fell within one of the exceptions to the notice requirement because it was "willful and not the result of error." The hearing officer interpreted this language, otherwise called the "willfulness exception," as requiring only a showing of the "intent to do an act that violates the law if done." The Supreme Court affirmed the agency's disposition but on different grounds, holding (1) the DEP's decision was based on an error of law because its interpretation of the willfulness exception did not comport with the clear meaning of the relevant statute; but (2) Plaintiff's conduct was willful and not the result of error within the meaning of the Act because Plaintiff knew or should have known of the likely presence of asbestos in the shingles. View "Franklin Office Park Realty Corp. v. Comm'r of Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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This action arose from the Department of Environmental Protection's (Department) issuance of a waterways license under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 91 (chapter 91 license) to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to redevelop a section of land owned by the BRA on the seaward end of Long Wharf (project site). Plaintiffs, ten residents of Boston's North End neighborhood, appealed the issuance of the chapter 91 license, claiming the Department acted unconstitutionally and beyond its statutory authority when it issued the license without obtaining two-thirds vote of the Legislature as required by article 97 of the amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. After the a Department's office of appeals affirmed the issuance of the license, the superior court ordered declaratory relief and issued a writ of mandamus ordering the Department to enforce article 97. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that article 97 did not apply to the project site, and therefore, a two-thirds vote of the Legislature was not required to approve the planned development. Remanded. View "Mahajan v. Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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Since at least 1986, the town had a deteriorating sewer system. Defects allowed inflow and infiltration (I/I). Wet weather caused overflow, contaminating the ocean, rivers, and wetlands. To avoid overflow into housing, the town installed, without approval, a bypass pump that discharged raw sewage into the Saugus River. In 2005, the town entered into a consent order with the Department of Environmental Protection, acknowledging violations of the Clean Water Act and state law; the town was required to implement plans to eliminate I/I. There was a moratorium on new connections until the problem was addressed. The town embarked on a 10-year, $27 million dollar plan. Ratepayers were to finance the majority of the plan. In the interim, the town required new connections to pay an I/I reduction contribution, calculated by multiplying, by a factor that decreased as repairs were completed, the number of gallons of new flow to be generated. Plaintiff, developers, paid $670,460 to accommodate new flow from the single-family houses and multifamily housing. The trial court concluded that the charge provided no particularized benefit to the developers; that the amount was excessive compared to regulatory costs involved; and that the charge was an impermissible tax. The Massachusetts Supreme Court vacated, finding that the charge is a fee. View "Denver St. LLC v. Town of Saugus" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from the proposed redevelopement of private property within the Middlesex Fells Reservation. Plaintiffs commenced an action against Fellsway Development LLC; Langwood Commons LLC; the Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (Secretary); and the Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief from alleged violations of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), G.L.c. 30, section 61-62H, and regulations promulgated thereunder, 301 Code Mass. Regs. 11.00. Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. The court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court dismissing Counts I, II, and III of plaintiffs' complaint, brought under section 7A and G.L.c. 231A, against the Secretary for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. As against the developers and the DCR, the court reversed only the judgment dismissing plaintiffs' complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under section 7A, and alleging a violation of MEPA's antisegmentation regulation promulgated at 301 Code Mass. Regs. 11.01(2)(c). Therefore, the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ten Persons of the Commonwealth & another v. Fellsway Development LLC & others" on Justia Law