Real Estate

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,

SJC Keeps Bright-Line Test for Overloading of Easements

In its recent decision in Taylor v. Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission (pdf), the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) put the brakes on a trend toward eliminating bright lines in the enforcement of easement rights.

The Facts

The case involved a nature preserve on Martha’s Vineyard encompassing the famed Gay Head cliffs (pictured).  The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission (Land Bank), which owns and manages the preserve, has an easement over the grounds of a nearby inn owned by Taylor Realty Trust (Trust), connected to the equally famed singing Taylor family.  In 2010 the Land Bank created a looped hiking trail that runs across the Trust’s property onto three Land Bank-owned lots that are benefited by the easement and then continues onto a fourth Land Bank-owned lot that is not benefited.

The Land Court Case

The Trust, invoking the black-letter rule that an easement can’t be used to benefit land