Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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Plaintiff's complaint against Governor Deval Patrick did not allege sufficient facts to establish actual malice, and therefore, Plaintiff failed to state a cognizable claim for defamation. After Governor Deval Patrick removed Saundra R. Edwards from her position as chair of the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB), Edwards filed an amended complaint asserting a wrongful termination claim against the State and two defamation claims against Patrick, individually. The basis for Edwards’s defamation claims were two statements Patrick made about Edwards’s abrupt departure explaining that he had decided to replace Edward because she had interfered with the independence of a SORB hearing officer. Patrick moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), claiming absolute privilege or, in the alternative, qualified privilege. A superior court judge denied Patrick’s motion to dismiss the defamation claims. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the amended complaint did not allege sufficient facts to establish actual malice, and therefore, Edwards did not plead sufficient facts to state a cognizable claim for defamation. View "Edwards v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a Boston police officer, filed an application for a criminal complaint alleging that Respondent, her supervisor, committed an assault and battery against her. Two clerk-magistrates denied the application for lack of probable cause. Petitioner then filed a petition under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking a rehearing on her application and a broader ruling requiring that applications for criminal complaints made against police officers be automatically transferred to a judge outside the police officer’s jurisdiction rather than being heard by a clerk-magistrate int he first instance. A single justice denied relief without holding a hearing. The Supreme judicial Court affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances presented here, Petitioner was not entitled to extraordinary relief. View "In re Application for a Criminal Complaint" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Defendants owned abutting parcels of property. After several years of Defendants opposing Plaintiff’s redevelopment plans, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging abuse of process and a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 11. Defendants filed a special motion to dismiss pursuant to the “anti-SLAPP statute,” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H. A superior court judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court (1) affirmed the denial of Defendants’ special motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiff’s claim under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 11; and (2) vacated the denial of the special motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiff’s abuse of process claim, holding that Defendants met their threshold burden under the anti-SLAPP statute of showing that this claim was solely based on Defendants’ petitioning activity. Given that Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the entirety of Defendants’ petitioning activities lack a reasonable basis in fact or law, it may attempt upon remand to make the showing outlined in Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hospital, Inc., 477 Mass. , (2017), which augments the framework in Duracraft Corp. v. Holmes Products Corp., 427 Mass. 156 (1998). View "477 Harrison Ave., LLC v. JACE Boston, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court took this opportunity to augment the framework set forth in Duracraft v. Holmes Products Corp., 427 Mass. 156 (1998), regarding anti-SLAPP suits. Plaintiffs, nine registered nurses who previously worked in a hospital's adolescent psychiatric unit, fired the hospital and its then-president, alleging defamation based on the president’s statements - both to hospital employees and to the Boston Globe - regarding the nurses’ culpability for the incidents that took place at the unit. Defendants filed a special motion to dismiss pursuant to the “anti-SLAPP statute,” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H. The superior court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the denial of Defendants’ special motion to dismiss as to the president’s statements to the Boston Globe and otherwise affirmed, holding that a portion of Plaintiffs’ defamation claim was based solely on Defendants’ petitioning activity. Therefore, Defendants satisfied in part their threshold burden under Duracraft. However, because the statute, as construed under current case law, remains at odds with legislative intent and raises constitutional concerns, the court broadened the construction of the statutory term “based on.” The court remanded the matter to the superior court where the burden will shift to Plaintiffs to make a showing adequate to defeat the special motion to dismiss. View "Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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This lawsuit arose from the explosion on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon that caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Defendants, environmental activists, contributed an article appearing in an Internet Web site that contained criticism of Plaintiff, a scientific consulting firm retained to assess the toxic effects of the oil spill on cleanup workers. Plaintiff brought claims for defamation in Massachusetts and in New York. Defendants filed a special motion to dismiss the Massachusetts suit under the anti-SLAPP statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H. The superior court denied the motion, concluding that Defendants failed to meet their threshold burden of showing that the suit was based exclusively on the exercise of their right of petition under the Constitution. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Defendants met their threshold burden because they were engaged in protected petitioning activity; and (2) Plaintiff could not show that such petitioning was devoid of reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law and therefore could not defeat the special motion. View "Cardno ChemRisk, LLC v. Foytlin" on Justia Law

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Odin Anderson, his wife, and his daughter (collectively, Plaintiffs) filed personal injury action for injuries Odin suffered after being struck by a bus owned by Partners Healthcare Systems that was being driven by one of its employees. Plaintiffs then filed a separate action against Partner’s insurers and claims representatives. A jury awarded Odin $2,961,000 in damages in the personal injury action and awarded Odin’s wife and daughter $110,000 each. At a subsequent jury-waived trial, a judge found that the insurers and claims representatives violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D by their misconduct. The judge awarded Plaintiffs treble damages using as the “amount of the judgment” to be multiplied the combined amount of the underlying tort judgment and the accrued postjudgment interest on that judgment. The appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that, in a case where the amount of actual damages to be multiplied due to a wilful or knowing violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A or Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D are based on the amount of an underlying judgment, that amount does not include postjudgment interest. View "Anderson v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh Pa." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a high school student, was suspended from school for conduct that took place outside of school grounds. The suspension - which was mistakenly ordered on the ground that Plaintiff had been charged with a felony - lasted an entire semester, and Plaintiff was unable to graduate with her class. Plaintiff commenced this action asserting that her suspension was unlawful. The judge allowed Defendants’ motion to dismiss on the ground that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 72, 37H1/2 before filing her complaint. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that because the tort recovery a student may seek under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 76, 16 provides a separate and distinct remedy from that available under section 37H1/2, Plaintiff was not obligated to exhaust the statute’s administrative remedies before pursuing a tort claim under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 76, 16. View "Goodwin v. Lee Public Schools" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was injured after slipping and falling on a walkway leading into a garden store owned by Defendant. Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting that she tripped on a stone that had traveled from a gravel area near the concrete walking leading into the store to the walkway. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff could not prevail under the traditional theory of premises liability. Plaintiff, in turn, argued that, although she could not prevail under a traditional theory of premises liability, she could prevail by applying a mode of operation analysis. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding that the mode of operation approach was not applicable in these circumstances. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment in favor of Defendant, holding that the mode of operation analysis was applicable under the circumstances presented here. View "Bowers v. P. Wile's, Inc." on Justia Law

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The decedent in this case was killed in a one-car accident when he drove in an intoxicated state after leaving a restaurant owned by Defendants. Plaintiff filed a complaint under the Commonwealth’s wrongful death statute, alleging that Defendants exhibited negligent, willful, wanton, and reckless conduct by selling and serving alcoholic beverages to the decedent prior to the decedent’s fatal motor vehicle accident and that such conduct was the proximate cause of the decedent’s death. Plaintiff submitted an affidavit pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 60J (commonly referred to as the dram shop act) stating that it was based on information and belief gathered from witness statements, a police report, and a medical toxicology report. Defendants moved to strike the affidavit and for partial summary judgment of Plaintiff’s complaint, arguing that a section 60J affidavit must be based upon personal knowledge. The superior court denied Defendants’ motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) a section 60J affidavit based on information and belief may be sufficient to satisfy the procedural requirements of the statute; and (2) in this case, the affidavit satisfied the requirements of section 60J. View "Bayless v. TTS Trio Corp." on Justia Law

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Stansfield sought a harassment prevention order against Van Liew alleging four incidents of harassment. The alleged harassment concerned a local municipal election and general issues of local public concern. The District Court judge denied the request. Van Liew then filed this action against Stansfield in the district court, asserting claims for abuse of process and malicious prosecution. Stansfield filed a special motion to dismiss pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 238, 59H. The District Court judge allowed the special motion after a hearing. Van Liew appealed to the Appellate Division of the District Court Department. The Appellate Division vacated the order of dismissal, concluding that Van Liew had presented sufficient evidence to show that Stansfield lacked any reasonable factual support for her petitioning activity. Stansfield filed an appeal in the Appeals Court from the decision and order of the Appellate Division. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Stansfield’s appeal was properly filed in the Appeals Court; and (2) with one possible exception, the speech at issue in this case did not qualify as either “fighting words” or “true threats,” and therefore, no civil harassment prevention order should have issued. View "Van Liew v. Stansfield" on Justia Law