Litigation

Mass. Appeals Court Upholds Somerville’s Union Square Revitalization Plan

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In 2012, the City of Somerville, the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA), and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development approved the Union Square Revitalization Plan (the Plan), an urban renewal plan to be administered by the SRA under M.G.L. c. 121B. A taxpayer group and a landowner (Pishev) appealed the approval of the Plan, alleging that it violates Chapter 121B. In late July the Appeals Court upheld the Plan’s approval in Pishev v. City of Somerville (pdf), 95 Mass. App. Ct. 678 (2019).

Pishev’s property is identified as a parcel subject to eminent domain taking by the SRA under the Plan pursuant to the powers granted to the SRA by Chapter 121B. The Appeals Court first addressed the issue of standing and found that the taxpayer group did not have standing, citing St. Botolph’s Citizens Committee, Inc. v. Boston Redevelopment Authority (pdf) and finding that “[n]o sufficient causal or connective link exists between the injuries or

When Your Neighbor’s Tree Blots Out the Sun, Can You Force Them to Take It Down? Not In Massachusetts

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Imagine owning your dream house. You have your pool, your barbeque area, your big lawn for the kids to play on. You’ve worked your whole life for this, and now you have it. It’s perfect. Well, except for your neighbor’s overgrown 100-foot tall sugar oak. It’s so massive it blots out the sun. Your yard is bathed in perpetual shade. Your roof is covered in moss. You’re pretty sure you could grow mushrooms commercially. You complain to your neighbor. You mention cutting it down, or at least trimming it back. He laughs at you. That’s your breaking point. You’ve had enough. It’s time to sue him, right? Sure – just not in Massachusetts.

A case called Shiel v. Rowell (pdf) presents the age-old question of how society should resolve pesky disputes between neighbors involving trees. Should the courts impose reciprocal responsibilities on the neighbors, requiring them to consider the harm their healthy tree may cause to their neighbors

Troubleshooters and Why Words Matter: Appeals Court Overturns Board’s Interpretation of Zoning Bylaw

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As municipalities assert more control over development, zoning bylaws become more complex. And as mechanics, programmers, and lawyers all know, when there are many parts, there are many more opportunities for things to go wrong. Hence, the value of troubleshooting.

Provincetown learned this the hard way. In Sinaiko v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Provincetown, the building inspector’s interpretation of a zoning bylaw prevailed before the local zoning board and the Superior Court, only to be overturned by the Appeals Court because the bylaw had not been de-bugged.

Sinaiko concerns a zoning bylaw intended to regulate the size of all new buildings and additions in Provincetown – an effort to ensure a “relatively consistent and harmonious scale within neighborhoods.” The bylaw limits the size of by-right construction of a new building or expansion of an existing building. For new construction, the by-right limit is 25% larger than the average size of buildings within 250 feet of the “center of the

Roma, III, Ltd. v. Board of Appeals of Rockport: Did the Supreme Judicial Court “Pave the Way” for Local Control of Drones?

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Earlier this year, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued a relatively straightforward decision concerning heliports, home rule authority, and preemption – Roma, III, Ltd. v. Board of Appeals of Rockport (pdf). The decision held that a municipality could exercise its home rule authority to regulate private heliports and other non-commercial aircraft landing areas, and that neither state nor federal law preempts this local control. At the time, Roma did not seem blog-worthy. This is Massachusetts. Home rule is important.

And who could consider it sound policy to prohibit municipalities from regulating private aircraft landing activity, especially in industrial and commercial zoning districts? Not even a zealous Aeronautics Commission would want the responsibility of reviewing – and then approving, revising, or denying – proposed regulations for private landing areas in each of Massachusetts’ 351 towns and cities.

But then I thought about it differently. Allowing a municipality to regulate – even prohibit – a private

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