Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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In 2016, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) acquired the high bid at a foreclosure sale of Anthony Michael Branch's property. Fannie Mae then initiated a summary process action in the Housing Court to gain possession. The court ruled in favor of Fannie Mae, and Branch appealed. During the appeal, Fannie Mae sold the property to Roberto Pina Cardoso. Cardoso intervened in the case and was awarded use and occupancy payments from Branch. The Appeals Court later vacated the Housing Court's judgment for possession, declaring it moot since Fannie Mae no longer had a possessory interest, and required Cardoso to establish his right to possession in a new case.The Housing Court initially granted summary judgment in favor of Fannie Mae for possession and dismissed Branch's counterclaims. Branch appealed, and during the appeal, Cardoso was allowed to intervene and was joined as a party with Fannie Mae. The Appeals Court vacated the judgment for possession as moot but affirmed the dismissal of Branch's counterclaims.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reviewed the case and disagreed with the Appeals Court's mootness determination. The court held that Cardoso, having acquired Fannie Mae's interest, maintained a live stake in the adjudication of the judgment for possession. The court affirmed the Housing Court's order allowing Cardoso to intervene and be joined as a party. It also affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Fannie Mae for possession and the dismissal of Branch's counterclaims. The court concluded that the foreclosure was valid and that Pentagon Federal Credit Union, as the authorized agent of the note holder, had the authority to foreclose. View "Fannie Mae v. Branch" on Justia Law

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The case involves Pure Oasis LLC, which applied for a conditional use permit to operate a recreational cannabis dispensary in Boston. The building commissioner denied the permit, and Pure Oasis appealed to the Board of Appeal of Boston. After multiple hearings, the board approved the permit. William Shoucair, an abutter to the property, opposed the permit, arguing it would negatively impact the neighborhood and filed a complaint in the Superior Court in Suffolk County, appealing the board's decision.The Superior Court judge ordered each plaintiff to post a $3,500 bond, despite not finding the appeal to be in bad faith. The judge applied the standard from Damaskos v. Board of Appeal of Boston, which allows for a bond to discourage frivolous appeals while not obstructing meritorious ones. The plaintiffs sought interlocutory review, and a single justice of the Appeals Court stayed the bond order and allowed an interlocutory appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted direct appellate review.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that under Section 11 of the Boston zoning enabling act, a preliminary finding of bad faith or malice is not required before imposing a bond for damages. The court reaffirmed the standard from Damaskos, which balances discouraging frivolous appeals with not obstructing meritorious ones. The court found no abuse of discretion by the lower court judge in setting the bond amount and affirmed the order. View "Shoucair v. Board of Appeal of Boston" on Justia Law

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A general contractor, Graycor Construction Company Inc., was involved in a dispute with a subcontractor, Business Interiors Floor Covering Business Trust, over unpaid invoices for flooring work performed on a movie theater project. Business Interiors submitted three separate applications for periodic payments, which Graycor neither approved nor rejected within the time limit set by the Prompt Pay Act. As a result, the applications were deemed approved under the Act. Business Interiors sued Graycor for breach of contract and other claims in the Superior Court. The Superior Court granted Business Interiors's motion for summary judgment on its breach of contract claim and entered separate and final judgment. Graycor appealed.Graycor argued that the original contract was not a "contract for construction" within the meaning of the Act, and that it had a valid impossibility defense due to its failure to pay. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Act defines its scope broadly, and the subcontract at issue was a "contract for construction" under the Act. The Court also held that common-law defenses are not precluded by the Act, but a contractor that does not approve or reject an application for payment in compliance with the Act must pay the amount due prior to, or contemporaneous with, the invocation of any common-law defenses in any subsequent proceeding regarding enforcement of the invoices. As Graycor sought to exercise its defenses without ever paying the invoices, it could not pursue the defenses. The Court also vacated and remanded the rule 54 (b) certification to the motion judge for reconsideration. View "Business Interiors Floor Covering Business Trust v. Graycor Construction Company Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Edward A. Cianci and Raymond Frechette, who purchased a foreclosed property and initiated a summary process action in the Housing Court against the occupants, including Elizabeth D'Andrea. The Housing Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs for possession. D'Andrea appealed and sought to waive the appeal bond due to her indigency. The Housing Court found D'Andrea to be indigent and waived her appeal bond, but required her to make monthly use and occupancy payments of $1,275 to the plaintiffs to maintain her appeal. D'Andrea appealed this order to the Appeals Court, which reported questions of law to the Supreme Judicial Court.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that use and occupancy payments required of an indigent party under G. L. c. 239, § 5 (e), may not be waived, substituted, or paid by the Commonwealth under the indigency statute because use and occupancy payments are not an "extra fee or cost" as defined in the indigency statute. The court further concluded that the order setting use and occupancy payments in this case did not violate D'Andrea's constitutional rights, even if the order requires her to make payments that potentially exceed her ability to pay. The court reasoned that the summary process statute reasonably imposes a fair balancing of interests between the owner of the property and the party in possession, and the Housing Court performed the fair balancing required. View "Frechette v. D'Andrea" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Outfront Media LLC (Outfront), a company that entered into a contract with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to advertise on outdoor signs owned by the MBTA. The city of Boston assessed real estate tax for fiscal year 2021 on Outfront for the signs. Outfront sought an abatement of the tax, arguing that the signs were exempt from taxation under § 24. The city denied Outfront's claim for abatement, and Outfront appealed to the Appellate Tax Board (board), which upheld the tax assessment.The Appellate Tax Board upheld the city of Boston's tax assessment on Outfront Media LLC for the use of outdoor advertising signs owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Outfront had argued that the signs were exempt from taxation under § 24, but the board disagreed, leading to Outfront's appeal.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the decision of the Appellate Tax Board. The court held that Outfront's use of the MBTA's outdoor advertising signs to post advertisements and generate advertising revenue constituted a "use" of the MBTA's property "in connection with a business conducted for profit" under § 24. The court distinguished such businesses from those merely providing a service for the MBTA such as a janitorial service. Therefore, Outfront used the signs within the meaning of § 24 and the decision of the board was upheld. View "Outfront Media LLC v. Board of Assessors of Boston" on Justia Law

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In this case, several residents of the town of Norwell, Massachusetts filed a lawsuit to compel the town's select board to transfer municipal land to the town's conservation commission. The select board had previously designated the land for the development of affordable housing. The main issue on appeal was whether the land was "held by a city or town . . . for a specific purpose" under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40, Section 15A. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the Land Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the select board. The Supreme Judicial Court held that town-owned land is held for a specific municipal purpose under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40, Section 15A, where the totality of the circumstances indicates a clear and unequivocal intent by the town to hold the land for such purpose. Applying this totality of the circumstances test, the court found no material dispute of fact regarding the town's intent to dedicate the municipal land at issue for the purpose of affordable housing. Therefore, the court concluded that the allowance of summary judgment for the select board was correct. View "Carroll v. Select Board of Norwell" on Justia Law

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The case pertains to an appeal by plaintiff William J. Papp, III, against the decision of a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court denying his request for declaratory relief, a stay of eviction, and relief in the nature of certiorari in relation to a housing dispute. The dispute centered around Papp's objection to the transfer of his case against the defendant landlord from the Superior Court to the Central Division of the Housing Court Department, which he alleged was in violation of G. L. c. 185C, § 20 and deprived him of due process.The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the single justice's decision, affirming that Papp had failed to adequately demonstrate that other remedies were not available to him. The court noted that Papp could have sought interlocutory review of the transfer order from a single justice of the Appeals Court, as per G. L. c. 231, § 118, first par. Additionally, he could have appealed the transfer order as part of an appeal from the final judgment of the Housing Court. Therefore, since Papp could not establish the absence or inadequacy of other remedies, the single justice had not erred or abused her discretion in denying Papp's claims for relief. View "Papp v. Westborough Gardens LLC" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Judicial Court, the Attorney General of Massachusetts initiated a civil action in the Superior Court alleging housing discrimination by the defendant, Mark Davidson, on behalf of two complainants. The defendant transferred the case to the Housing Court, after which the Attorney General unsuccessfully sought to have the matter transferred back to the Superior Court, arguing that the Housing Court lacked jurisdiction over a discrimination claim in this procedural posture. The complainants had initially filed an administrative complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging that the defendant had terminated their lease upon learning that one of the complainants was pregnant, allegedly to avoid having to comply with the lead containment or abatement statute. The defendant chose to have the matter heard in court rather than by the commission.The Supreme Judicial Court held that, based on the language of G. L. c. 151B, § 5, the Superior Court is the proper court for actions such as this one, and that the Housing Court lacks jurisdiction. The court reasoned that the language of § 5 unambiguously indicates that the Superior Court is the proper court for such actions. The court also noted that the Legislature's use of the word "shall" suggests a command to commence the action in the Superior Court, and not elsewhere, and the phrase "commence and maintain" is a clear directive that such actions brought by the Attorney General, once initiated, are to remain in the Superior Court. Therefore, the order of the single justice of the Appeals Court was affirmed, and the stay of any proceedings in the Superior Court was vacated. The case must be returned to the Superior Court. View "Commonwealth v. Davidson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the trial judge finding Jane Furnas in contempt for failing either to refinance or to list property for sale according to an agreement, holding that there was no error.Furnas, who together with Anthony Cirone owned property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, filed a petition to partition the property. The parties settled on an agreement wherein Cirone would make monthly payments to Furnas, who would either keep the mortgage current and refinance or list the property for sale. The agreement was incorporated in a decree. Anthony later died and Plaintiff, his daughter acting as personal representative of his estate, filed a complaint for contempt alleging that Furnas had failed to comply with the terms of the decree. The judge found Furnas in civil contempt. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Furnas's right of survivorship was terminated and that the agreement was enforceable by Cirone's estate. View "Furnas v. Cirone" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the county court denying, without a hearing, Petitioners' petition for extraordinary relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion by denying extraordinary relief.Petitioners obtained an order requiring Ara Eresian, Jr. to identify all real estate in which he held an interest, but Eresian did not comply with that other. The land court judge denied Petitioners' request for an arrest warrant authorizing entry into Eresian's home. Thereafter, Petitioners filed their petition for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 requesting that the single justice issue an order authorizing the land court judge to issue an order authorizing the arrest warrant. The single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioners failed to make the required showing that they lacked an adequate alternative remedy. View "VonIderstein v. Eresian" on Justia Law