Many sections of the greater Boston area are characterized by densely populated neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods were established before the adoption of zoning codes that set minimum side and rear yard setbacks. And even today, in urban settings, there are some zoning codes that allow zero-foot set back criterion in some zoning districts. The result is that there are many structures in the Commonwealth built on, or within, just a few feet of a lot line. And in urban areas, there are row houses with shared party walls and adjoining roof lines. The proximity of these structures to abutting lot lines makes it extremely difficult or sometimes simply impossible for a property owner to make a repair to their property without entering their neighbors' land.
As previously discussed in our blog post regarding the Nuts and Bolts of a Petition to Partition, a partition proceeding is a legal action to dispose of jointly held property "to balance the rights and equities of the parties concerning the property at issue." Gonzales v. Pierce-Williams, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 785, 787 (2007), quoting Moat v. Ducharme, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 749, 751 (1990). In order to balance the equities of the parties, the court has wide latitude, in equity, to determine how the proceeds from a partition sale the partition should be distributed. See G. L. c. 241, § 25.
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.
There are times when a residential or commercial property owner will need to request a variance in order to use the land in a way that is usually not permitted by the zoning ordinance. For the landowner, there is a lot on the line and he or she must show exactly how the request meets local and state zoning laws. This is where an attorney can step in, to help protect the landowner's interests and rights.
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.
When attempting to establish property rights, disputes can arise for any number of reasons. A neighbor could call into question a property line, or an adjacent owner could want to take legal action over a structure on or near the property. Alternatively, the tables may be reversed and you may want the neighbor off your property or the structure taken down or moved. Either way, a property dispute is a legal issue and it must be resolved.
We have repeatedly posted about the so-called Derelict Fee Statute, G. L. c. 183, § 58, in the past here at P & A. One aspect of the statute that we have not discussed is the interplay between the statute, which governs ownership of private ways, and the use rights that flow from properties' abutting the same. Many people, even seasoned practitioners, assume that ownership to the midpoint of the way carries with it an easement over the full length of the way. See Brennan v. DeCosta, 24 Mass. App. Ct. 968 (1987) ("[a]s a general rule, the title of persons who acquire land bounded by a street or way runs to the center line of the way, G.L. c. 183, § 58, and carries with it the right to use the way along its entire length").
A few weeks ago, the Appeals Court issued a decision that potentially affects several landlocked parcels in Aquinnah (Gay Head) on Martha's Vineyard. As a result of this decision (Kitras v. Town of Aquinnah, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 10 (2015)), which reversed and remanded a Land Court decision/judgment, these landlocked parcels have been deemed to have easement rights that have been in dispute for some time. Or at least that's what the majority opinion decided. There was a stong dissent written by Associate Justice Peter W. Agnes.
"'It is a principle of general application in Anglo-American jurisprudence that one is not bound by a judgment in personam in a litigation in which he is not designated as a party or to which he has not been made a party by service of process.'" Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 884 (2008), quoting Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32, 40 (1940). Likewise, strangers to a judgment do not generally have the standing to enforce the same. Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 750 (1975). These principles also find their expression in the requirement under the res judicata doctrines of claim and issue preclusion that there be identity of the parties in order for a claim to be barred or an issue closed for consideration by prior litigation. See, e.g., Heacock v. Heacock, 402 Mass. 21, 23-24, 25 (1988). These principles also reflect substantive and procedural Due Process concerns. People should have their days in court, and not be bound by others' days in court. It is for this reason also that default judgments, Treglia v. MacDonald, 430 Mass. 237, 242 (1999), and consent decrees, New York Cent. & H.R.R. Co. v. T. Stuart & Sons, Co., 260 Mass. 242, 248-249 (1927), have no preclusive effect in subsequent litigation.
The recent Land Court case of Georgetown Planning Bd. v. Georgetown Planning Bd., 2014 WL 3555971, 13 MISC 480712 (KCL) (Mass. Land. Ct. 2014), is perhaps one of the more "creative" ways around trying to undo a constructive endorsement of an ANR (Approval Not Required) plan. It ultimately was also not successful.