Mass. high court ruling may reduce nuisance suits against builders

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A recent decision in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court could reshape the landscape for builders and developers in the Bay State, giving Land Courts a stronger hand to decide whether plaintiffs bring nuisance lawsuits or legitimate ones, Paul McMorrow, an associate editor at CommonWealth Magazine, writes in The Boston Globe.

The state’s highest court sided with a couple from Chatham who wanted to knock down their Cape Cod seafront home and rebuild it above the floodplain, in the same place but seven feet higher than it originally stood. Neighbors objected to the local Zoning Board permit, and the squabble went to the Land Court, then to an appeals court and finally to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC).

The SJC not only sided with the Land Court but also said that state appeals courts have no business second-guessing decisions that Land Court judges make when deciding whether or not plaintiffs have standing to bring a suit to court.

McMorrow writes that this issue is often the difference between a nuisance lawsuit and a legitimate one, and judges can generally resolve standing disputes in months rather than the years it takes for cases to be adjudicated. “For most developers, that’s the difference between a project that can survive a baseless challenge, and one that buckles,” concludes McMorrow.

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