Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice dismissing Petitioner's petition treated pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice neither abused his discretion nor made a clear error of law in denying the petition. Petitioner's minor child was the subject of a care and protection proceeding in the juvenile court. After the trial concluded, Petitioner filed a "Verified Emergency Time is of the Essence Ex Parte Petition for Answer to Question of Law," in which Petitioner sought a declaration that he had a right to a jury trial in the care and protection proceeding. The single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner had an adequate remedy and that the single justice was within his discretion in concluding that extraordinary circumstances requiring exercise of the court's supervisory power were not present. View "Care & Protection of a Minor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the motion judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress evidence derived from the warrantless seizure and search of his cell phone, holding that the seizure of the cell phone was proper but the search of the cell phone was not proper. The trial court granted the motion to suppress on grounds that the seized cell phone was not properly handled pursuant to a valid written inventory policy and that the police had conducted an investigatory search of the seized cell phone. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) it was permissible to seize the cell phone as part of a search incident to custodial arrest; and (2) the search exceeded the scope of, and was inconsistent with, the purposes underlying the search exception to the warrant requirement. View "Commonwealth v. Barillas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the ruling of a single justice dismissing Appellant's postconviction petitions, holding that Appellant should seek his requested relief in the superior court. Appellant was convicted of murder in the first degree on a theory of joint venture. Appellant later filed in the county court a "Petition to Supreme Judicial Court Requesting Relief in the Form of an Order to the Trial Court to Correct the Record" and a "Motion Requesting Leave to Enter Petition on the Docket of the Supreme Judicial Court" purportedly pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E. A single justice dismissed the petitions because Appellant had not first sought relief in the superior court and that, therefore, there was no superior court decision from which Appellant sought to appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice correctly denied relief. View "Commonwealth v. Birks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the trial judge's order setting aside the jury verdict and reinstated the original judgment in favor of Plaintiff, holding that the contract at issue in this appeal did not require an obligation that Plaintiff register as a securities broker-dealer under Massachusetts and Federal securities laws. Plaintiff sued Defendant alleging breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. A jury found Defendant liable on all claims and awarded treble damages. Thereafter, the judge set aside the jury's verdict in its entirety, concluding that Plaintiff had been required to register as a securities broker-dealer and that its failure to do so rendered its contract with Defendant invalid and unenforceable. The contract required Plaintiff to "source capital and structure financing transactions from agreed-upon investors and/or lenders" for Defendant. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the contract, on its face, did not require Plaintiff to "effect" transactions in "securities"; and (2) because Plaintiff's purported obligation to register as a broker-dealer was the sole basis for the judge's decision that Plaintiff could not maintain its breach of contract and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A claims, the judge's decision to set aside the jury verdict was erroneous. View "NTV Management, Inc. v. Lightship Global Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in this insurance dispute, holding that deaths caused by the improper use of a portable generator did not arise out of the uninsured premises as defined by an exclusion in the insurance policy. The Insurer in this case sold a homeowner's policy to Mark Wakelin for a property he owned in Braintree. The policy provided Wakelin protection against personal liability and property damage and contained an exclusion for bodily injury arising out of a premises owned by the insured but not insured under the policy. Wakelin owned a cabin without electrical power in Maine, which was uninsured. Two of Wakelin's children and two of their friends died from carbon monoxide poisoning when a portable generator Wakelin left at the cabin was improperly used. The Insurer initiated this action against Wakelin seeking a judgment declaring that coverage for the wrongful death claims against Wakelin was barred under the exclusion. The superior court denied the Insurer's motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the generator was not a condition of the uninsured premises, and therefore, the accident did not arise out of the uninsured premises, and the coverage exclusion at issue did not apply. View "Green Mountain Insurance Co. v. Wakelin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the trial court and set aside Defendant's conviction as a joint venturer of murder in the first degree on the theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty, holding that the evidence presented to the jury was insufficient to establish Defendant's knowing participation in the murder with the required intent beyond a reasonable doubt. At the close of all evidence, Defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty. The motion was denied. After Defendant was convicted, he appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred in denying his motion for a required finding of not guilty. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) the Commonwealth's evidence was insufficient to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt Defendant's presence when the victim was stabbed, and therefore, the conviction cannot stand; and (2) retrial of Defendant was barred by the principles of double jeopardy. View "Commonwealth v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court dismissing Plaintiff's negligence action against the Town of Leicester due to her untimely presentment, holding that Plaintiff's presentment was untimely because presentment occurs upon delivery to the office of the proper executive officer. Exactly two years after her claim arose, Plaintiff mailed her presentment letter to the Town. The Town denied liability for Plaintiff's injuries, and Plaintiff brought this action the following month. The superior court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint as untimely. At dispute on appeal was whether placing a presentment letter in the mail constitutes presentment under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, 4 or receipt by the proper executive officer. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed on a third ground, holding (1) presentment occurs upon delivery to the office of the proper executive officer; and (2) therefore, Plaintiff's presentment was untimely. View "Drake v. Town of Leicester" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this case involving a consequence of the evidence tampering by Sonja Farak, a chemist at the State Laboratory Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a defendant who qualified for an enhanced sentence due to a subsequently vacated predicate offense that had been tainted by Farak's misconduct may challenge the guilty plea without being exposed to a harsher sentence than that which he received in exchange for his plea. Defendant was indicted on two counts alleging aggravated statutory rape and as a habitual criminal, with two drug offenses on his prior record as the predicate convictions. Defendant pleaded guilty to lesser charges without the habitual offender enhancements. Defendant was later identified as a "Farak defendant," and one of his prior drug convictions was vacated. Before seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, Defendant requested a ruling that if he succeeded in withdrawing his plea he would not be subject to a harsher punishment as the result of a reprosecution of the rape charges. The superior court judge asked whether protections from harsher punishment established for "Dookhan defendants" apply to "Farak defendants" challenging Farak-related predicate offenses that resulted in enhanced sentences on subsequent convictions. The Supreme Judicial Court answered the question in the positive. View "Commonwealth v. Claudio" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this wrongful death action, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant based on the release from liability and covenant not to sue that the decedent signed before his death, holding that the beneficiaries of a wrongful death action have rights that are derivative of, rather than independent from, any claim the decedent could have brought for the injuries causing his death. The decedent, a certified open-water scuba diver, drowned while participating in a promotional diving equipment sponsored by Diving Unlimited International, Inc. (DUI). The decedent signed a release from liability prior to participating in the event. Plaintiff, in her capacity as the decedent's personal representative, sued DUI and Defendant, a DUI agent, for the benefit of the decent's statutory beneficiaries. Plaintiff settled with all defendants other than Defendant. The superior court then granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding that the waivers the decedent signed were valid and thus precluded any recovery on behalf of the decedent's beneficiaries, who had no rights independent of the decedent's cause of action, which was waived. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the valid waivers signed by the decedent precluded Plaintiff from bringing a lawsuit for the benefit of the statutory beneficiaries. View "Doherty v. Diving Unlimited International, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this wrongful death action brought against a nursing home notwithstanding the existence of an arbitration agreement between the decedent and the nursing home the Supreme Judicial Court answered two certified questions by holding that the Legislature intended wrongful death actions to be derivative of the decedent's own cause of action and that, under the circumstances of this case, the arbitration agreement between the decedent and the nursing home controlled the decedent's statutory beneficiaries. After the decedent died in a nursing home, Plaintiff, her daughter, brought this wrongful death action. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified two questions to the Supreme Judicial Court. The Supreme Court answered (1) the wrongful death statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, 2, provides rights to statutory beneficiaries derivative of, rather than independent from, what would have been the decedent's action for the injuries causing her death; and (2) the arbitration clause in this case was enforceable. View "GGNSC Administrative Services, LLC v. Schrader" on Justia Law