This is the fourth in a series of posts on challenges to zoning bylaws and ordinances. Before reaching the merits of zoning challenges, one more jurisdictional issue should be considered: standing-also referred to in the case law as "harm", "injury" or "aggrievement". "'The question of standing is one of critical significance. "From an early day it has been an established principle in this Commonwealth that only persons who have themselves suffered, or who are in danger of suffering, legal harm can compel the courts to assume the difficult and delicate duty of passing upon the validity of the acts of a coordinate branch of government.'"' Ginther v. Commissioner of Ins., 427 Mass. 319, 322 (1988), quoting Tax Equity Alliance v. Commissioner of Revenue, 423 Mass. 708, 715 (1996), ultimately quoting Doe v. The Governor, 381 Mass. 702, 705 (1980).
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.
In my last post, I addressed how, between 2006 and 2011, the Supreme Judicial Court had made it easier for developers to challenge abutters' legal standing to maintain zoning appeals. However, while the Commonwealth's high court was making life easier for developers, the Appeals Court was making it harder.
Massachusetts law has permitted neighbors to appeal zoning decisions for many decades. Like any civil action, abutter plaintiffs in zoning appeals must demonstrate that they have a substantive stake in the outcome-that they will be harmed if their neighbors' permits are allowed to stand. At Phillips & Angley, we have posted many blog entries on this topic of standing in abutter zoning appeals. The standing case law that has accumulated over the years has generally been intended to place a threshold hurdle in front of abutters' rights to appeal their neighbors' permitting. In particular, however, the pendulum of standing has swung back and forth, between making that hurdle higher and lower. Starting in 2012, we left an era in which standing was more difficult to prove to a period where many of the basic limitations on standing have been effectively removed. The following is the first in a series of two posts that look at this-nearly incoherent-progression. This post focuses on how good developers had it at the beginning of 2012.
It's always interesting to read zoning appeal cases that focus on the question of standing, and which, if any, of the plaintiff's alleged harms or injuries will convince the judge that the substantive portion of the case can move ahead.