Real Estate Development in the Time of Coronavirus: Massachusetts – Update 4/2/2020

New Supreme Judicial Court Order Clarifies Impact on Statutory Appeal Periods

On April 1, 2020, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a new order that will go into effect on April 6, 2020. The order states that all Massachusetts courts will remain closed for all matters other than emergencies, as defined by each lower court, until May 4, 2020. A link to the order is here. The order restates that all statutes of limitations are tolled due to court closures, and, in paragraph 12, clarifies the rule regarding statutory appeal deadlines. The order states that all statutory appeal periods were stayed as of March 16, 2020 and will begin to run again on May 4, 2020 or when the order is lifted.

The language of the order is particularly helpful to those hoping to record land use permits once the appeal period has passed. If there was only one day left on an appeal period in March, the permit holder will only need to wait one day after the courts reopen to get the municipal clerk’s signature. The rule also clarifies that court-ordered deadlines and injunction time frames are extended until at least until May 4, 2020.  

For example: a property owner has a variance that was filed with the town clerk on March 13, 2020. The 20-day appeal period would ordinarily expire on April 2, 2020. Two days of the appeal period expired before March 16, so the “new” appeal period will expire 18 days after May 4, 2020 or when the order is lifted. 

Land Court Issues New Order

The Land Court is now closed to the public and all court personnel until April 9, 2020. A link to today’s order closing the court, which includes contact information should you need to reach court personnel working remotely, is here. The Land Court also issued a new order in response to the Supreme Judicial Court order of April 1, 2020, which is linked here and will go into effect when the court reopens. The new Land Court order in paragraph V makes it clear that statutory deadlines (such as the 20-day filing deadline for zoning appeals) do not create an emergency that the court must act on. The list of emergency matters is generally limited to injunctions, temporary restraining orders, and endorsements of memoranda of lis pendens that cannot wait. All other matters are stayed until at least May 4, 2020 (this includes Servicemembers Civil Relief Act cases and tax lien cases, as recently clarified by the court). Even for emergency matters, appearance in court is limited to extreme circumstances. All emergency matters are typically to be heard by telephone.

For questions on these orders, or any other real estate development issue, please contact Dan BaileyPaula DevereauxDon PintoGareth Orsmond, or Joel Quick.

 

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