Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that Landowner’s Lawsuit is Not Barred by SLAPP Statute
September 25, 2012
The highest court in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), recently issued an important decision clarifying the application of the Massachusetts SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) statute, G.L.c. 231, §59H 9. Murtha Cullina attorney Kathleen Connolly obtained the victory for a landowner-farmer who was attempting to comply with a local wetlands order.
The landowner sued the tenant composting company for failing to remove mulch from the property which the landowner argued was preventing his compliance with a local wetlands order.
Citing the SLAPP statute, the composting company argued that the landowner had infringed upon the company’s constitutionally protected ability to petition the town. "[The company] contends that it exercised its right to petition by seeking redress from the town for its own grievances related to the town’s zoning enforcement, and was attempting, by negotiating and entering into a settlement agreement," the decision stated. But the SJC disagreed, finding that the landlord’s claim was not based on any statement made by the company in exercising its right of petition. Rather, the Court noted, the basis of the landowner’s claim was not that he was injured by the company’s advocacy with the town, but that he was injured by the company’s failure to remove the mulch.
The SJC determined that the landowner’s lawsuit brought by a landowner against a tenant composting company for failing to remove mulch from the property was not unlawful under the "anti-SLAPP" statute.
This is an important step toward clarifying the Legislature’s intent in enacting the statute, which was meant to protect against meritless lawsuits that just increase the cost, time, stress and anxiety for parties involved in litigation. The decision helps to narrow and define the parameters of the anti-SLAPP law by clarifying the definition of ‘petitioning activity’ under the statute.
The 11-page decision, Marabello v. Boston Bark Corporation, is available by clicking here, or by visiting the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court website.