Friday, February 15, 2008

Not Taking No, No, No, No, No, No, Or No For An Answer

The Widget:

Court: SJC
Judge: Cowin
Subject: Procedural chaos
Tone: Weary
Importance: 3.1

The Marina Bay complex in Quincy has spawned quite its share of litigation. A developer’s plans to build in the area were at issue today in Elles v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Quincy, No. SJC 10031. Actually, what was really at issue was a messy donnybrook involving the plaintiffs’ attorney, the defendants’ attorney, and the trial judge. So much the better!

The plaintiffs live in the area and sued to stop the development because it would be loud and increase traffic. The defendant filed a motion claiming that the plaintiffs wouldn’t suffer legal injury as a result of the development and so they did not have what fancy-pants lawyers call “standing” to sue. The plaintiffs responded that oh yes they did.

The trial judge said that there’d need to be a trial on the issue. Standard operating procedure here would be to just try the thing and deal with legal issues on an appeal. The plaintiffs, though, decided to be way more aggressive. First they filed a motion for reconsideration. This was denied. Then they went a bit nuts and filed what fancy-pants lawyers a notice of an “interlocutory” appeal. That is, an appeal before it’s really time for such things.

The trial judge then took the rather severe step of striking the notice of interlocutory appeal. The plaintiffs’ priceless response was to file a notice of interlocutory appeal of the judge’s order striking the first interlocutory appeal. The judge struck that, too, and went even further. He instructed the clerk’s not to do what it always does when there’s an appeal, which is to put the papers together and get them ready for transmission to the appellate court.

We’re treading precariously close to Barney Alert territory here. But let’s proceed.

The plaintiffs then petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court directly. And today they won a somewhat hollow victory. The Court found that the trial judge should not have engaged in the odd practice of striking the notices of appeal. But it went on to hold that, yes, there really needed to be a trial to determine whether the plaintiffs would be injured by the proposed development.

This summary is admittedly confusing, but it’s also incomplete. Though the opinion is short, it contains even more procedural wrangling for those interested in such perversity. What a great case, though.

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