Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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In this case concerning the law involving breach of an exclusive real estate broker agreement, the Supreme Judicial Court held that an enforceable contract was created in this case, Defendants committed a breach of that contract, and Plaintiff was entitled to her expectation damages.Plaintiff, a licensed real estate broker and her wholly-owned real estate brokerage firm, brought this action against Defendants, two former clients, after Plaintiff performed substantial services pursuant to the contract and Defendants terminated their relationship without paying her. Because there was no written agreement for brokerage services the motion judge granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Appeals Court reversed on the grounds that there is an express exemption to the Statute of Frauds for real estate brokers. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that a contract was former and that a breach occurred, entitling Plaintiff to her expectation damages. View "Huang v. Ma" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Seller in this case stemming from the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Specifically at issue was, in light of the disruptions caused by COVID-19 pandemic, whether the doctrines of impracticability of performance or frustration of purpose temporarily excused the purchaser of a cleaning services franchise and the purchaser's co-owners from their obligation to pay the outstanding portion of the purchase price of the franchise. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the property seller. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the record did not support a rational finding that the pandemic cause date continued payment of the franchise purchase price to be impracticable or frustrated the principal purpose of the contract; and (2) the parties intended that the obligation to pay would not be conditioned on the franchise's financial performance beyond the first six months following the sale. View "Le Fort Enterprises, Inc. v. Lantern 18, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the Appeals Court single justice affirming the Housing Court's use and occupancy order at issue in this case, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief.After the foreclosure of Petitioner's residence, the Federal National Mortgage Association successfully initiated a summary process action against him. Petitioner appealed. A Housing Court judge ordered Petitioner to pay monthly use and occupancy payments of $1,000. Petitioner appealed. Petitioner then filed this petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 211, 3 requesting that the Supreme Court vacate the use and occupancy order or reduce it. The single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief. View "Branch v. Federal National Mortgage Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the verdict of the trial court awarding Plaintiffs $100,000 for property damage and $3.4 million in emotional distress damages and entering an injunction forbidding operation of the golf course next to which Plaintiffs' home was located in a manner that allowed golf balls on Plaintiffs' property, holding that the trial judge erred.Plaintiffs lived in a subdivision on the side of a golf course operated by Defendant. In 2018, Plaintiffs sued Defendant in trespass for equitable relief and money damages, alleging that several hundred golf balls had hit the property since 2017, breaking eight windows and damaging the house's siding and a railing on the deck. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the trial judge erred when he did not interpret the documents creating the covenants and restrictions as a whole and in light of attendant circumstances; and (2) because the jury were not properly instructed about the documents, the verdict must be reversed, the injunction lifted, and the case remanded. View "Tenczar v. Indian Pond Country Club, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of the superior court ordering Plaintiffs to post a $35,000 bond, holding that the bond provision set out in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 14 applies to comprehensive permits issued under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40B, 21 to promote low- and moderate-income housing and that the costs recoverable under the bond provision do not include attorney's fees or delay damages.Plaintiffs filed a complaint challenging the decision of the zoning board of appeals of Salisbury issuing a comprehensive permit to build seventy-six condominium units at 6 Forest Road in Salisbury. Defendant filed a motion for Plaintiffs to post a $50,000 surety or cash bond pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 17. The superior court judge granted the motion in part, reducing the bond to $35,000. Plaintiffs appealed the bond order. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order, holding (1) the bond provision applies to appeals of comprehensive permits; (2) the court should only order a bond if the judge find that a plaintiff's appeal seems so devoid of merit that it may reasonably be inferred to have been brought in bad faith; and (3) remand was required in this case. View "Marengi v. 6 Forest Road LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the Land Court denying Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in this land dispute, holding that an undeveloped lot that was deemed unbuildable under the local zoning bylaw in effect when the lot's owner requested a building permit was protected as buildable under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6.At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was whether the lot at issue met the minimum "frontage" requirement set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6. The land court annulled the issuance of the building permit in this case, concluding that the lot did not qualify for protection under the statute. The appeals court reversed and reinstated the decision of the zoning board of appeals allowing the application for a permit. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed and vacated the land court judge's order, holding that the subject lot had more than fifty feet of "frontage" on a "way," and therefore, the lot was protected as a buildable lot pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 6. View "Williams v. Board of Appeals of Norwell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part the Housing Court judge's grant of summary judgment in favor of HSBC Bank USA, N.A., as trustee of the Fremont Home Loan Trust 2005-E, Mortgage Backed Certificate, Series 2005-E (HSBC), in this summary process action, holding that one of Defendants' counterclaims was not barred.Defendants purchased their home with proceeds from two loans secured by a mortgage on the property. The primary loan was at issue on appeal. After Defendants defaulted on their monthly payments HSBC, the assignee of the home mortgage loan, held a foreclosure sale and sold Defendants' home to the highest bidder. When Defendants refused to vacate the property HSBC initiated the present summary process action. Defendants brought counterclaims under section 15(b)(2) of the Predatory Home Loan Practices Act (PHLPA), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183C and under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. The trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of HSBC. The appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Defendants were entitled to assert a counterclaim under PHLPA to limited monetary damages; and (2) Defendants' counterclaim under chapter 93A was barred. View "HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v. Morris" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the housing appeals committee had jurisdiction over the projects at issue in this case and the power to remove or modify conditions that made such projects significantly more uneconomic.Under the Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40B, 20-23, qualifying developers of low or moderate income housing have access to a comprehensive streamline permitting process and expedited appeal before HAC. The Act further authorizes HAC to strike or modify any conditions on a comprehensive permit application that would make it "uneconomic" to proceed with a project. At issue was whether the HAC has the power to reject conditions where a project has received a funding commitment from a public subsidizing agency and the developer receives a comprehensive permit subject to conditions but the rate of return for the original proposal is found to be uneconomic and HAC determines that the imposed conditions make the project "significantly more uneconomic" and therefore rejects them. The Supreme Judicial Court answered the question in the affirmative, holding that HAC is authorized to eliminate conditions that effectively prevent such projects by rendering them significantly more uneconomic. View "Zoning Board of Appeals of Milton v. HD/MW Randolph Avenue, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court dismissing Plaintiff's claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress and affirmed the dismissal of her other claims, holding that the alleged facts, taken as true, plausibly supported claims for negligent and reckless infliction of emotional distress.At issue in this case was daguerreotypes made in 1850 by the Harvard University professor Louis Agassiz of Renty Taylor and his daughter, Delia, who were enslaved on a South Carolina plantation. Plaintiff, the alleged descendent of the Taylors, brought this action against Harvard, seeking relief for emotional distress and other injuries and restitution of the daguerreotypes to her. The superior court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the dismissal in part, holding that the facts alleged plausibly supported a claim of reckless infliction of emotional distress. View "Lanier v. President & Fellows of Harvard College" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the land court judge determining that the decision of Waltham officials not to allow a developer to construct an access road to certain property was improper, holding that there was no error.The developer in this case sought to build a solar energy system in Lexington and an access road to the facility to Waltham. The access road would be on property zoned for residential use, and the system would be on property zoned for commercial use. When Waltham officials indicated informally that the developer could not construct the access road because it would constitute a commercial use in a residential zone the land court the developer brought suit seeking a declaration that Waltham could not prohibit the developer from building the road. The land court judge granted summary judgment for the developer. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 3 prohibited Waltham from banning the solar energy system, including its access road, from all but one to two percent of Waltham's land area. View "Tracer Lane II Realty, LLC v. City of Waltham" on Justia Law