Municipal Law News

SJC: BOSTON GLOBE MEDIA PARTNERS vs. DEPT. OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Keywords:   Public Records. Department of Public Health. Privacy. Statute, Construction
In a decision issued today from the SJC, the Court has remanded a Superior Court decision which, briefly, allowed withholding of certain birth and marriage data. The Superior Court relied on exemption (c) which “exempts from the definition of public records “personnel and medical files or information [and] any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Superior Court did not agree with the public body as to exemption (a), which provides in part “exempts from the definition of public records “materials or data” that are “specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure by statute.” In remanding the case back to the Superior Court, the SJC instructed that both exemptions need to be reconsidered by the Superior Court. “The Globe’s request necessitates an approach to exemption (a) that takes into account future requests for the indices. The application of exemption (c) involves a privacy issue we have yet to address in the public records context, namely, whether there is a greater privacy interest in a compilation of personal information than in the discrete information that a compilation summarizes. We conclude that, in certain circumstances, there is.”

With respect to exemption (a), the judge on remand should make factual findings about the extent to which the indices requested here could be compared against later-requested indices to reveal information protected from public disclosure by statute. The judge should then determine whether the risk of revealing such information brings the requested indices within the scope of exemption (a).

With respect to exemption (c), which protects personal privacy, the judge on remand should first decide the extent to which the indices requested here could be compared against later-requested indices to reveal medical information absolutely exempt from the public records law. If necessary, the judge should then decide whether there is a privacy interest in the requested indices. To do so, the judge should make further findings on (1) the extent to which multiple indices could be compared to reveal private information; (2) whether the requested compilation is already available in the aggregate form requested or, if not, the ease with which it can be assembled from public information; (3) whether DPH has shown that releasing the indices could pose a risk of identity theft or fraud; and (4) the extent to which the indices could facilitate unwanted intrusions.”

The decision appears to provide further guidance on the applicability of various exemptions to the Public Records Law.

Click here for the full text of the Court’s decision.

SJC: RICHARD MEYER v. VEOLIA ENERGY NORTH AMERICA

KeywordsWay, Public: defect. Municipal Corporations, Notice to municipality. Notice, Action alleging injury caused by defect in public way. Statute, Construction

In this decision, the SJC ruled that the notice requirements of the “defect in the public way” statute are not applicable to private parties.  The Court summarized as follow:

While riding his bicycle on Sudbury Street in Boston, the plaintiff, Richard Meyer, struck a utility cover that was misaligned with the road surface and injured himself.  Within thirty days of the incident he submitted notice of claim to the city of Boston (city) regarding his injury.  Thirty-one days after the incident, the city informed him that it would not pay Meyer’s claim because the defendant, Veolia Energy North America (Veolia), was responsible for the defect that caused Meyer’s injuries.  A few days later, Meyer gave notice to Veolia and subsequently brought suit against Veolia for negligence.  A judge of the Superior Court granted summary judgment to Veolia and dismissed Meyer’s lawsuit.  He concluded that G. L. c. 84, § 15 (§ 15 or road defect statute), provided the exclusive remedy for Meyer’s claim against Veolia.  He further concluded that Veolia was entitled to notice within thirty days from the date of Meyer’s injury under G. L. c. 84, § 18 (§ 18 or notice statute), but that Meyer had not provided that notice.

We conclude that the decision below was erroneous.  The text of §§ 15 and 18, the legal and legislative history relevant to those statutes, the case law, and the practical realities of providing notice within thirty days all confirm that the road defect and notice statutes apply to governmental and quasi governmental actors responsible for the public duty of maintaining the public way, and not to a private party such as Veolia that has created a particular defect in the way.  Sections 15 and 18 do not limit Veolia’s common-law liability under tort law.  Consequently, Veolia may be sued for its own negligence without providing thirty days’ notice.  Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment for Veolia.

Click here for the full text of the SJC’s decision.

SJC: RCA DEVELOPMENT, INC. v. ZBA OF BROCKTON

KeywordsSubdivision Control, Approval not required, Plan. Practice, Civil, Summary judgment

In the decision issued May 1, 2019, the SJC affirmed the Land Court’s determination that the 1964 division of a lot in Brockton was not a subdivision under the subdivision control law and the City’s zoning ordinance and further that the owners were not otherwise required to seek any planning board action.  After their appeal to the zoning board of appeals was denied the basis that the locus had merged with the adjoining lot and had therefore lost its “grandfathered” status as buildable under the 1963 zoning ordinance, the plaintiffs appealed to the Land Court. There, the plaintiffs argued that the property at issue resulted from a division that did not constitute a subdivision, and that the legitimacy and buildability of the lot should be considered under the 1963 zoning ordinance, which was in effect at the time of the division. The board countered that the lot was unbuildable because the division of the lot did not comply with the subdivision control law, and that the 1963 zoning ordinance should no longer apply because the locus merged with lot 47 due to common ownership. Click here for the full text of the decision.

Appeals Court: POLICE CHIEF OF TAUNTON vs. PAUL N. CARAS, et al

Keywords Firearms. License. Practice, Civil, Judicial review of license to carry firearms, Action in nature of certiorari.
APPEALS COURT REVERSES LOWER COURT’S OVERTURNING CHIEF’S DETERMINATION OF UNSUITABILITY IN GUN CASE
The Appeals Court , in Chief of Police of Taunton v Carras issued today, overturned a District Court’s reversing of a Police Chief’s determination of unsuitability, which was upheld by the Superior Court, and upheld the Chief’s determination.  Of note, the Appeals Court held that the lower courts erroneously substitute their judgment for that of the Chief’s in determining unsuitability.   Click here for the full text of the Court’s decision.
Congrats to MMLA member and Taunton Assistant City Solicitor Daniel de Abreu on his victory in this important case.

Save the Dates!

Save the dates!  MMLA is having 2 great programs over the next 2 months-

1.  Wednesday, April 24, 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., The Aegean in Framingham
Alcoholic Beverages Licensing Update
2.  Wednesday, May 15, 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., the Publick House, Sturbridge
9th Annual MMLA Construction Law Program, chaired by Christopher Petrini, Esq.
NOTE CHANGE IN DAY OF WEEK TO WEDNESDAY FOR BOTH THESE PROGRAMS

Appeals Court: JAMES CUTICCHIA et al. v. TOWN OF ANDOVER et al.

KeywordsMunicipal Corporations, Group insurance. Insurance, Group, Premiums. Public Employment, Retirement benefits. Retirement. Statute, Construction. Practice, Civil, Summary judgment.

[Excerpt] “In 2016, the town of Andover increased the percentage share that retired town employees had to pay for their health insurance.  Three retired town employees brought this action alleging that G. L. c. 32B, § 22 (e), prohibited the town from implementing such increases prior to July 1, 2018.[3]  On cross motions for summary judgment, a Superior Court judge ruled that the language of § 22 (e) unambiguously supported the town’s position that the increases were lawful.  For the reasons that follow, we vacate the judgment.” Click here for the full text of the Appeals Court’s Decision.

Municipal Attorney Positions Posted

The Town of Barnstable has posted an RFP for the position of Town Attorney, to fills the shoes of MMLA member Ruth Weil.who is retiring.  Visit “Career Opportunities” for details.

Also, the Town of Falmouth and the City of Lawrence are both currently soliciting applications for municipal law positions.  Falmouth will be filling the position of Associate Town Counsel, a position long held by held by MMLA member Pat Harris; and the City of Lawrence is looking to fill 1st and 2nd Assistant City Attorney positions.  For details, visit “Career Opportunities” on this website.

Land Court: VALLEY GREEN GROW, INC. v. TOWN OF CHARLTON

Action taken by the Town of Charlton’s annual town meeting in May of 2018 in the form of a general bylaw of the town purported to bar the conversion of a farm property to an indoor marijuana growing and processing facility.  In the Land Court’s decision, this was an improper attempt to exercise the town’s zoning powers through a general bylaw, the adoption procedures for which fall short of the requirements for zoning bylaws. In granting the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Foster held that the bylaw is “invalid and of no force and effect.”   Click here for the full text of the Land Court decision.