A few years ago, I posted a two-part review of the state of the law for standing under the Zoning Act. Standing refers to a claimant's legal right to bring a claim. Not every person has the right to bring every claim. As previously discussed, this principle is especially true and significant in zoning appeals brought by neighbors, abutting property owners, rather than by applicant property owners. While the decisional law has not substantially changed since my post from 2015, our office recently encountered a case that involved some interesting questions about standing under G. L. c. 40A:
Massachusetts contains thousands of private streets and ways; on and along those ways innumerable residents of this Commonwealth live. We know that the Derelict Fee Statute operates to resolve ownership questions regarding these private ways. However, the "statute pertains only to the question of ownership of the fee [in a private way]"; it does not govern use, maintenance, or other rights and/or obligations over a way, which, for the purposes of this blog post, fall within the province of the common law of easements. Adams v. Planning Bd. of Westwood, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 383, 389 (2005).
On February 13, 2017, the Land Court, Scheier, J., issued an Order Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment in Heller v. Conner et al., Land Court Docket No. 15 MISC 0000481 (KFS) in which the court denied a motion for summary judgment against the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Plymouth (the "Board"), and P&A's client, Kingstown Corporation ("Kingstown"). The order rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the failure to mail notice of a zoning hearing to a party-in-interest was a fatal flaw in the public hearing process prescribed by G. L. c. 40A § 11, where that party-in-interest is a plaintiff in the ongoing de novo appeal of the permitting issued through that process.
On November 14, 2016, the Land Court, Foster J., issued a Memorandum and Order Allowing Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment in Fitchburg Capital, LLC, v. Bourque, Land Court Docket No. 12 MISC 464577 (RBF) in which the Court granted summary judgment for P&A's client, Plaintiff, Fitchburg Capital, LLC. The Memorandum and Order dismissed the Defendant's counterclaims for recovery of rental income pursuant to theories of conversion and accounting. In doing so, the Court agreed with Fitchburg that the Defendant's counterclaims were barred by all of three asserted bases: judicial estoppel, recoupment, and quantum meruit (unjust enrichment). Fitchburg's motion was successfully argued by Robert K. Hopkins, Esq.
On September 22, 2016, the Boston Housing Court, Muirhead, J., issued an Order on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment in Goureev, et al. v. Zoning Board of Appeal, the City of Boston, et al., No. 16H84CV000137, in which the Court granted summary judgment for P & A's clients, the plaintiffs, Csaba Toth and Andre Goureev, annulling the decision of the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal which granted zoning variances to defendant, Ryan Connelly.
On October 19, 2016, the Massachusetts Land Court issued a Memorandum and Order on Cross Motions for Summary Judgment in Roma, III, Ltd. v. Town of Rockport Board of Appeals, Land Court Case No. 15 MISC 000074 (RBF), granting P & A's client, the plaintiff, Roma, III, Ltd.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, annulling a decision of the Town of Rockport Board of Appeals.
This is the third in a series of posts on challenges to zoning bylaws and ordinances, and the second addressing the question of where to bring a challenge to a zoning bylaw or ordinance. The prior post covered the Land Court. The Land Court, however, is not the only court of competent jurisdiction to hear these cases. As the Department of the Massachusetts Trial Court having general jurisdiction, the Superior Court has the authority to hear all manner of claims challenging zoning bylaws and ordinances. As discussed below, the United States District Court, depending on the type of challenge, has the subject matter jurisdiction to hear these types of cases as well.
In run of the mill zoning appeals, the plaintiff must persuade the trial court that a local zoning decision "is based on a legally untenable ground, or is unreasonable, whimsical, capricious or arbitrary" in order to have the local decision annulled. Davis v. Zoning Bd. of Chatham, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 349, 355 (2001), ultimately quoting MacGibbon v. Board of Appeals of Duxbury, 356 Mass. 635, 639 (1970) (quotations omitted). This standard is applied to the particular action of the local board, not the bylaw under which it has acted. In many zoning cases, however, there may be a basis to attack the local bylaw itself, and derivatively the decision of the board, as it is based on a legally-invalid bylaw. This is the first of a series of posts, discussing challenges to zoning bylaws. In this post, the basics of these challenges will be discussed.
On May 13, 2016, the Appeals Court issued its decision in Hanlon v. Town of Sheffield, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 392 (2016), wherein it concluded that in order to regulate "the use and operation of aircraft or [an] airport or restricted landing area" for both commercial and noncommercial private purposes, the Town of Sheffield was required, first, to seek and obtain approval of such regulations from the Aeronautics Division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (the "Aeronautics Division"). The decision gives clarity to an awkwardly framed statute, and fresh hope to aeronautics enthusiasts across the Commonwealth for the establishment of private landing areas for their aircraft. It will also cause headaches for cities and towns around the Commonwealth because their regulatory authority over the use and operation of aircraft or landing areas in their communities is now entirely subject to review and approval by the Aeronautics Division. Municipal regulation, absent such pre-approval, is void.
On June 23, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court handed down its most significant decision in the area of premises liability since 2010. See Sarkisian v. Concept Restaurants, Inc., SJC-11786, 2015 WL 3833877 (Mass. June 23, 2015). In Sarkisian, the court was asked to "decide whether the 'mode of operation' approach to premises liability, adopted . . . in Sheehan v. Roche Bros. Supermkts., Inc., 448 Mass. 780, 788, 863 N.E.2d 1276 (2007), applies to slip-and-fall incidents occurring outside of the context of self-service establishments." Id., at *1.