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Massachusetts Landowners Awarded Attorneys’ Fees in Frivolous Real Estate Action Filed Against Them

If someone files a frivolous real estate action against you, you may be able to recover your attorneys’ fees from defending against the claim. A December 18, 2017 case before the Massachusetts Land Court demonstrates this situation. In the case, a town sold a parcel of land to the defendants. Thereafter, the town filed an action against the defendants in land court, claiming that the parcel was subject to a restrictive covenant that only allowed for one residential lot.

After evaluating the evidence, the land court ruled that there was no restrictive covenant created by reference in the deed to a subdivision plan, nor was an equitable servitude established without a sufficient writing. The land court also refused to rescind the conveyance on the ground that it exceeded the authority granted by the town in approving the sale of the parcel. The defendants subsequently filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, claiming that the court’s legal rulings led to a conclusion that the town’s claims were wholly insubstantial, frivolous, and not advanced in good faith.

In Massachusetts, a court may award reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs to a party if it determines that all or substantially all of the claims made by another party were wholly insubstantial, frivolous, and not advanced in good faith. A claim is not considered frivolous merely because the party was unsuccessful, but only when the court finds a total absence of evidentiary or legal support.

When considering the matter of attorneys’ fees, the land court first determined whether the town’s claims were wholly insubstantial and frivolous. The court pointed to its summary judgment ruling, in which it expressly stated that the town’s inference of a restrictive covenant was wholly unjustifiable, and the town raised no legitimate issue of ambiguity on the issue. The court went on to conclude that the town’s claims were advanced with a lack of substantial legal or evidentiary support, and it held that the claims were frivolous.

In deciding whether or not the town’s claims were advanced in bad faith, the court reviewed official records and reports indicating the town’s representatives understood prior to the conveyance that the parcel would not be subject to a restrictive covenant. In fact, during the sale negotiations, the defendants had refused the town’s request to subject the parcel of land to a restrictive covenant. In knowingly filing its unsubstantiated claims against the defendants, therefore, the town was not acting in good faith. Accordingly, the court awarded the defendants their attorneys’ fees in defending the land action brought against them.

The Massachusetts firm of Pulgini & Norton offers experienced legal representation in all matters concerning residential real estate.  Our land use attorneys handle matters such as home purchases and closings, mortgage refinancing, building permit applications, and many other property-related transactions.  Schedule a free consultation regarding your real estate issue by calling (781) 843-2200 or submitting our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Deed Provision Compels Massachusetts Landowners to Re-Convey Subdivision Lot to Developer, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published February 1, 2017

Massachusetts Homeowners Win Breach of Contract Claim Against Corporation in Property Dispute, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 5, 2016

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