Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The case revolves around a public records request made by Eric Mack, whose brother, Anthony Harden, was fatally shot by police. Mack sought records related to the shooting under Massachusetts public records law. The district attorney's office, which had investigated the shooting, argued that the requested records were exempt from disclosure under three exemptions: the privacy exemption, the policy deliberation exemption, and the investigatory exemption. The Superior Court granted Mack's motion for summary judgment, ordering the disclosure of the requested documents with minor exceptions. The district attorney's office appealed.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case. The court held that the privacy exemption did not apply to the requested records because they related to a law enforcement misconduct investigation. The court also held that the policy deliberation exemption did not apply to the draft of the preliminary district attorney's office report, except for the "Applicable Laws" and "Conclusion" sections, which could be redacted. The court remanded the case to the Superior Court to determine whether the investigatory exemption applied to the videotaped public employee interviews and the investigator's interview questions. The court rejected the district attorney's office's argument that the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission had exclusive authority to release officers' names. View "Mack v. District Attorney for the Bristol District" on Justia Law

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The case involves a professional photographer who sexually exploited a minor. The defendant initially contacted the victim through a social networking site and began communicating with her through various means, eventually soliciting and receiving explicit images of the victim. The defendant also met the victim in person and sexually abused her. After the victim's parents reported the exploitation to the police, an investigation was launched. The police seized a computer tower, an external hard drive, and other items from the defendant's former residence. A forensic examination of the hard drives revealed explicit images of the victim, communications between the defendant and the victim, and hundreds of images of unidentified females in various stages of undress.The defendant was indicted on multiple counts, including aggravated rape of a child and enticement of a minor. He pleaded guilty to all charges, except for the eight counts of aggravated rape of a child, where he pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of statutory rape. After being sentenced, the defendant filed a motion for the return of the seized property. The Commonwealth opposed the return of the property, arguing that it was in the "public interest" to destroy the devices. The Superior Court denied the defendant's request for the return of certain property.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted an application for direct appellate review. The court concluded that the procedural requirements set forth in G. L. c. 276, §§ 4 to 8, must be followed before a forfeiture decree may be issued under G. L. c. 276, § 3. The court vacated the Superior Court orders denying the return of certain property to the defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Commonwealth v. James" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted the "Tobacco Act," which prohibited the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 years old. The town of Brookline later passed an ordinance that divided potential tobacco consumers into two groups based on birth year: those born before January 1, 2000, and those born on or after that date. Retailers could sell tobacco products to the first group, but not the second. This effectively created an incremental prohibition on the sale of tobacco products in the town. Several retailers filed a lawsuit, claiming that the local law was preempted by the Tobacco Act and violated the equal protection provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution.The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the local law was not preempted by the Tobacco Act. The court reasoned that the Tobacco Act expressly permitted local communities to limit and ban the sale of tobacco products. Furthermore, the local law did not conflict with the Tobacco Act's prohibition on sales to persons under 21; instead, it augmented this prohibition by further limiting access to tobacco products.The court also held that the local law did not violate the equal protection guarantees of the state constitution. The court found that the birthdate classification in the local law was rationally related to the town's legitimate interest in mitigating tobacco use, especially among minors. The court affirmed the dismissal of the retailers' complaint. View "Six Brothers, Inc. v. Town of Brookline" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Fallon Community Health Plan, Inc., adopted a policy requiring its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The defendant, Shanika Jefferson, a home health aide employed by Fallon, sought a religious exemption from the vaccination requirement. Her request was denied, and her employment was terminated. Jefferson then applied for and was approved for unemployment benefits from the Department of Unemployment Assistance. However, Fallon contended that Jefferson was ineligible for the benefits and sought review of the decision. The board of review of the department, as well as a District Court judge, affirmed the decision.Fallon argued that Jefferson was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits as per § 25 (e) (2) of General Laws c. 151A because she refused the COVID-19 vaccine in knowing violation of Fallon's reasonable policy and in wilful disregard of Fallon's interest in keeping its vulnerable patient population healthy. However, the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with Fallon's contention. The court held that Jefferson did not engage in "deliberate misconduct", but rather made a good faith effort to comply with Fallon's policy by applying for a religious exemption. The court also found that Fallon failed to demonstrate that Jefferson should be disqualified on the basis of a "knowing violation" of that policy. The court considered the unique circumstances of the case, including Jefferson's sincere religious beliefs, which did not present her with a meaningful choice regarding vaccination. Therefore, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the lower courts, allowing Jefferson to receive unemployment benefits. View "Fallon Community Health Plan, Inc. v. Acting Director of the Department of Unemployment Assistance" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was called upon to determine which law applied to the sealing of records from youthful offender proceedings - G. L. c. 276, § 100A, the adult criminal record sealing statute or G. L. c. 276, § 100B, the juvenile delinquency sealing statute. The case arose when the Commissioner of Probation denied the petitioner's request to have his youthful offender records sealed under § 100B and instead applied the adult criminal record sealing statute, § 100A.The court, after examining both statutes and considering the legislative intent, concluded that § 100B, the juvenile delinquency sealing statute, was the proper statute for the sealing of records of youthful offenders. The court found that the Legislature’s intent to aid, encourage, and guide juveniles, which includes youthful offenders, was more consistent with the process outlined in § 100B.The court held that it was an error for the Commissioner of Probation to refuse to seal the petitioner's Juvenile Court records under § 100B, as the petitioner had satisfied all the requirements under the statute. Therefore, the case was remanded back to the county court for the entry of a judgment in favor of the petitioner. View "In the Matter of an Impounded Case" on Justia Law

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In this case, several residents of the town of Norwell, Massachusetts filed a lawsuit to compel the town's select board to transfer municipal land to the town's conservation commission. The select board had previously designated the land for the development of affordable housing. The main issue on appeal was whether the land was "held by a city or town . . . for a specific purpose" under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40, Section 15A. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the Land Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the select board. The Supreme Judicial Court held that town-owned land is held for a specific municipal purpose under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40, Section 15A, where the totality of the circumstances indicates a clear and unequivocal intent by the town to hold the land for such purpose. Applying this totality of the circumstances test, the court found no material dispute of fact regarding the town's intent to dedicate the municipal land at issue for the purpose of affordable housing. Therefore, the court concluded that the allowance of summary judgment for the select board was correct. View "Carroll v. Select Board of Norwell" on Justia Law

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In the case at hand, the plaintiff, a civilly committed sexually dangerous person, petitioned the Department of Correction (DOC) for medical parole due to his deteriorating health conditions. The DOC denied his petition based on their policy that civilly committed individuals are ineligible for medical parole under G. L. c. 127, § 119A. The plaintiff sought review of this denial, arguing that his due process rights had been violated. A Superior Court judge allowed his motion for judgment on the pleadings and ordered the DOC to conduct a hearing on the plaintiff's medical parole petition.However, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reversed the judge's order. The court held that the medical parole statute applies only to committed offenders serving a criminal sentence, not to civilly committed sexually dangerous persons. It further held that sexually dangerous persons may seek release due to terminal illness or physical or mental incapacity under G. L. c. 123A, § 9, and denying them an additional avenue for relief by means of the medical parole statute does not offend substantive due process. The Court concluded that the plaintiff's due process rights were not violated by the DOC's policy that precludes civilly committed sexually dangerous persons from eligibility for medical parole. View "Murphy v. Commissioner of Correction" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court judge dismissing the underlying declaratory judgment complaint in this declaratory judgment action regarding the scope of the Department of Housing and Community Development's (DHCD) authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7A, holding that dismissal was warranted.Plaintiffs - location housing authorities (LHAs) of various cities and towns, current and former executive directors of LHAs and others - sought a judgment declaring that DHCD exceeded its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7A by promulgating guidelines that govern contracts between an LHA and its executive director and making compliance with the guidelines a requirement to obtain contractual approval from DHCD. A superior court judge allowed DHCD's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that LHAs have authority to hire executive directors and "determine their qualifications, duties, and compensation, under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7. View "Fairhaven Housing Authority v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that an agreement entered into between Plaintiff Anthony Gattineri and Defendants Wynn MA, LLC and Wynn Resorts, Limited (collectively, Wynn) in San Diego California (the San Diego agreement) was unenforceable for reasons of public policy.Wynn entered into an option contract with FBT Everett Realty, LLC (FBT) to purchase a parcel of property. As Wynn's application for a casino license proceeded, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission discovered that there was a possibility of concealed ownership interests in FBT by a convicted felon with organized crime connections. In response, FBT lowered the purchase price for the parcel. The Commission approved the amended option agreement. Gattineri, a minority owner of FBT, opposed the price reduction and refused to sign the certificate required by the Commission. Gattineri alleged that at the San Diego meeting Wynn had agreed to pay Gattineri an additional $19 million in exchange for Gattineri signing the certificate. After the Commission awarded Wynn a casino license Gattineri brought suit claiming breach of the San Diego agreement because Wynn never paid Gattineri the promised $19 million. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the agreement was deliberately concealed from the Commission and inconsistent with the terms approved by the Commission; and (2) enforcement of such a secret agreement constituted a clear violation of public policy. View "Gattineri v. Wynn MA, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Secretary of the Commonwealth did not overstep the bounds of the authority granted to him under the Massachusetts Uniform Securities Act (MUSA), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 110A, by promulgating the "fiduciary duty rule."The Secretary brought an administrative enforcement proceeding alleging that Plaintiff Robinhood Financial LLC violated the prohibition in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 110A, 204(a)(2)(G) against "unethical or dishonest conduct or practices in the securities, commodities or insurance business" by dispensing ill-suited investment advice to unsophisticated investors. The Secretary defined the phrase in section 204(a)(2)(G) to require broker-dealers that provide investment advice to retail customers to comply with a statutorily-defined fiduciary duty. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought the instant action challenging the validity of the fiduciary duty rule. The superior court concluded that the Secretary acted ultra vires to promulgating the rule. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the Secretary acted within his authority under MUSA; (2) the fiduciary rule does not override common-law protections available to investors; (3) MUSA is not an impermissible delegation of legislative power; and (4) the fiduciary rule is not invalid under the doctrine of conflict preemption. View "Robinhood Financial LLC v. Secretary of the Commonwealth" on Justia Law