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dpinto

Donald R. Pinto, Jr.

This author Donald R. Pinto, Jr. has created 12 entries.

Breaking: Mass. SJC Holds That Real Estate Statute of Repose Bars Tort Claims Arising From Asbestos Exposure After Six Years

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In a decision of great importance to property owners, developers, architects, engineers, and contractors, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) this morning ruled that the state’s six-year statute of repose, M.G.L. c. 260, § 2B, applies to tort claims based on asbestos exposure and other diseases with long latency periods.  The decision is Stearns v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

The statute of repose applies to “Action[s] of tort for damages arising out of any deficiency in the design, planning, construction or general administration of an improvement to real property . . .” and states, “in no event shall such actions be commenced more than six years after the earlier of the dates of (1) the opening of the improvement to use; or (2) substantial completion of the improvement and the taking possession for occupancy by the owner.”

Unlike statutes of limitation, which start to run when a claim “accrues” (generally when the injured party becomes aware of the

Late-Filed Appeal to Zoning Board is a Nullity, Not a Springboard to Constructive Approval

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court’s recent decision in McIntyre v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Braintree demonstrates the importance of subject matter jurisdiction in the context of administrative proceedings.  The plaintiffs appealed the issuance of a building permit authorizing construction of a single-family house on an abutting lot.  Though they knew immediately that the permit had issued, the plaintiffs didn’t file their appeal until 44 days later, well past the 30-day deadline imposed by M.G.L. c. 40A, § 15.  Despite the lateness of the appeal, the Braintree zoning board of appeals (ZBA) held two hearings before determining that it had no jurisdiction to consider the merits of the appeal.  At the second hearing the ZBA voted unanimously to deny the appeal but did not issue a written decision that day.

If these were all the facts there probably wouldn’t have been a court case.  But of course there’s more.  The same statute that imposes the filing deadline – M.G.L. c. 40A, §

Mass. Appeals Court Ventures Onto High Wire of Zoning Standing Doctrine, Answers Vexing Question

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It’s about time!  Not since the notable 1961 adverse possession case Kershaw v. Zecchini have real estate litigators had an important decision inspired by circus performers.

In its recent decision in Murrow v. ESH Circus Arts, LLC, the Appeals Court answers a question that concurring Justice Peter J. Rubin notes “has vexed the judges of the trial court, who have reached different conclusions about it.”  In zoning appeals under M.G.L. c. 40A (the Zoning Act), plaintiffs may have the benefit of a rebuttable presumption that they are “persons aggrieved” – meaning they have standing to appeal.  This judicially-created presumption, which originated in the 1957 case Marotta v. Board of Appeals of Revere, is conferred on “parties in interest” as described in Section 11 of the Zoning Act.  Section 11 defines “parties in interest” as:

the petitioner [i.e., the applicant for zoning relief], abutters, owners of land directly opposite on any public or private

Mass. Appeals Court Clarifies Requirements For Extending Common-Scheme Real Estate Restrictions Beyond 30 Years

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In its decision today in Berger v. 2 Wyndcliff, LLC (pdf), the Massachusetts Appeals Court answered an important question about extending common-scheme real estate restrictions beyond the presumptive statutory limit of 30 years.  As to restrictions imposed as part of a common scheme applicable to four or more contiguous lots, M.G.L. c. 184, § 27 states in relevant part that an otherwise enforceable restriction cannot be enforced after 30 years:

unless . . . provision is made in the instrument or instruments imposing it for extension for further periods of not more than twenty years at a time by owners of record, at the time of recording of the extension, of fifty percent or more of the restricted area in which the subject parcel is located, and an extension in accordance with such provision is recorded before the expiration of the thirty years or earlier date of termination specified in the instrument . . . .

Berger

Mass. Appeals Court Rebuffs Mortgagee’s Novel Bid For Equitable Subrogation

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In its decision yesterday in Wells Fargo Bank v. Comeau (pdf), the Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected the plaintiff mortgagee’s attempt to use the doctrine of equitable subrogation in a novel way:  to impose on a surviving wife the obligation to pay a note signed by her late husband where the wife had not signed either the note or the mortgage.

The boiled down facts are as follows.  Husband and wife owned a home as tenants by the entirety.  In 2003 the property was mortgaged to a local bank.  Husband alone signed the note; husband and wife signed the mortgage.  In 2005 husband refinanced with a different bank.  This time husband alone signed both the note and mortgage.  In 2008 husband died, leaving a balance due on the note.  Wells Fargo, successor of the refinancing bank, did not assert a claim against husband’s estate before the statute of limitations expired.  Instead Wells Fargo sued wife, claiming its mortgage should be equitably subrogated to the position

The Limits of Exclusive Use Rights in Condominium Common Areas

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It’s not unusual for condominium documents to set aside parts of the development’s common area for the exclusive use of particular units.  This device allows the developer to offer a degree of privacy in decks, driveways, garages, attics, and similar spaces that are affiliated with, but outside of, a unit.  But how exclusive is an exclusive use area?  The Massachusetts Appeals Court answered this question in a recent decision.

Calvao v. Raspallo (pdf) involved a two-unit residential condominium in Dennis, “down the Cape.”  The defendant Raspallo made some renovations to her unit, including an addition that encroached by 111 square feet into the exclusive use common area next to her unit.  She obtained permits for this work after the developer appointed her sole trustee of the condominium.  The owners of the other unit, the Calvaos, sued in Superior Court, where a judge ruled that Raspallo’s appointment as sole trustee was invalid and ordered the addition removed.  Raspallo appealed.

The Appeals Court first

Perpetual Easement or Expired Restriction? Mass. Appeals Court Weighs In

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In its decision this week in Perry v. Aiello, the Massachusetts Appeals Court addresses an interesting question: whether a 1947 grant of easement-like rights created an affirmative easement, which can be perpetual, or a disfavored restriction whose duration is limited by sections 26-30 of M.G.L. c. 184.

The case involved a dispute between two storied Boston institutions:  DeLuca’s Market, a high-end grocery store that’s been in the same spot at the foot of Beacon Hill for over 100 years, and King’s Chapel, which dates back a bit further – as in 1686.  DeLuca’s, King’s Chapel, and another abutter share the use of a ten-foot-wide passageway between their buildings (the King’s Chapel building is a nice old brownstone, not the historic chapel itself, which is across town).  Fee ownership of the passageway is divided in half, with the abutters on each side owning to the center line.

In 1947, the parties’ predecessors entered into an agreement

Breaking: Mass. SJC Overhauls SLAPP Statute Practice

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today issued two decisions which together make important changes in how Massachusetts courts apply the often troublesome SLAPP statute, M.G.L. c. 231, § 59H, enacted in 1994. While of general application, the SLAPP statute often surfaces in disputes over real estate development.

Today’s decisions are dense and will require further study, but at first glance Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hospital, Inc. (pdf) is the more dramatic of the two. Massachusetts courts have long recognized that, as drafted, the reach of the SLAPP statute is not limited to classic SLAPP suits – weak or baseless cases brought primarily for the purpose of chilling a defendant’s legitimate “petitioning activity” – but extends to virtually any claim asserted in response to petitioning activity. After over 20 years of decisions construing the statute, Blanchard directly addresses this scope issue. As the SJC puts it, “[u]nder current case law, the inquiry ends without permitting confirmation that the fundamental

In Self-Renewing Lease, Tenant Has Burden of Proving Timely Termination

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In a case of interest to commercial landlords and tenants, the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently ruled that where a commercial lease is self-renewing but can be terminated on six-months’ notice to the other side, the party seeking to terminate – in this case the tenant – has the burden of proving it timely exercised its right.

Patriot Power, LLC v. New Rounder, LLC is a classic “she said-she said” dispute.  The parties’ lease provided that it would automatically renew for successive terms of one year unless either party served on the other written notice of its intent not to renew at least six months before the expiration of the then-current term.  About two weeks before the six-month deadline, the tenant sent the landlord a Federal Express envelope containing documents the landlord had requested in connection with its refinancing of the property.  At trial, the tenant’s executive assistant testified that she had “no doubt at all” that, in addition to the refinancing documents,

Safety Issue Can Be “Hardship” Justifying A Zoning Variance

The Massachusetts standard for granting a zoning variance is notoriously difficult to meet.  In a nutshell it requires proof that: (1) due to circumstances concerning soil conditions, the shape of the lot, or the topography of the land; which (2) especially affect the land but not the zoning district generally; (3) literal enforcement of the zoning ordinance would cause a substantial hardship (financial or otherwise); and (4) relief can be granted without substantial detriment to the public good; (5) without nullifying or substantially derogating from the intent or purpose of the ordinance.  See M.G.L. c. 40A, § 10.  Each requirement must be met and the courts tell us variances should be “sparingly granted.”  As a result, while zoning boards issue variances with some frequency, the percentage of those variances that meet the standard and would survive judicial scrutiny is relatively small.  A new, easier-to-meet variance standard is a perennial feature of the zoning reform bills that are introduced each year in the Legislature and, so