Massachusetts Superior Court Decides Issue of Jurisdiction in Major Development Permit Appeals

In Skawski v. Greenfield Inv’rs Prop. Dev. LLC, 45 N.E.3d 561, 562 (Mass. 2016), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided the issue of whether a law granted exclusive subject matter jurisdiction to the permit session of the Land Court and to the Superior Court to hear certain major development permit appeals, thereby eliminating the subject matter jurisdiction of the Housing Court.

In Skawski, the defendant sought to build a retail development of approximately 135,000 square feet of commercial space. The planning board of Greenfield granted a special permit to the developer to construct the project. The plaintiffs owned property abutting the proposed development, and they filed an appeal with the Housing Court. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which was denied by the judge and ultimately reversed by the appeals court, which concluded that the enactment of G.L. c. 185, § 3A deprived the Housing Court of subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts legislature enacted G.L. c. 185, § 3A in 2006, establishing the permit session of the Land Court department and providing that the permit session shall have original jurisdiction, concurrently with the superior court department, over civil actions adjudicating the grant or denial of permits for the use or development of real property when the underlying project or development either involves 25 or more dwelling units, or the construction or alteration of 25,000 square feet or more of gross floor area.

The Supreme Judicial Court used statutory interpretation canons to analyze the law and determine whether it divested the Housing Court of jurisdiction over major development permit appeals. The court also referenced the strong presumption against the implied repeal of a prior law. Placing the statute within the context of the larger legislative enactment, the court examined the legislative purpose underlying the statute and noted that the comprehensive scope of the act suggested that the Massachusetts legislature intended to be equally comprehensive in declaring which courts have original jurisdiction to adjudicate major development permit appeals. As a result, the court concluded that major development permit appeals should be adjudicated in the permit session of the Land Court or in the Superior Court, and it limited jurisdiction to these courts.

The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case to the Housing Court, holding that in situations in which the permit appeal was timely filed in the Housing Court, the appropriate remedy is to transfer the case to a court with jurisdiction, rather than dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs could therefore continue with their challenge against the defendant’s development project in the correct judicial forum.

The Massachusetts real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton are experienced in advising individuals in a diverse range of property issues. If you are seeking qualified legal representation, our skilled lawyers can provide advice regarding land use and zoning issues, easements, mortgages, and other land transactions. To discuss your real estate needs with one of our skilled attorneys, call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Court Affirms Denial of Homeowner’s Application for Zoning Variance, Special Permit, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 14, 2015

Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Issuance of Business Storage Permit, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published February 1, 2016

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