Should it Stay or Should it Go?: Post-MUPC Probate Court Objections in the Wake of Leighton and CusackPosted: November 14, 2019
Since Massachusetts adopted the Model Uniform Probate Code, G.L. c. 190B (MUPC) in 2012, few cases have addressed the topic of objections. This article will offer practical pointers for how to make objections stick in light of two recent (published) appellate decisions.
- Objections: History, Contents and Timeliness
Objections are an essential component of probate litigation. Objections provide notice to interested parties of a controversy within a probate or will action in the Probate and Family Courts. Upon the filing of an objection, the dispute becomes a lawsuit, where discovery may begin.
Objections may contest the merits of an action in probate court or air a more disconcerting lack of communication or trust involving a fiduciary. Affidavits in support of objections can range from the long-winded “let me tell my side of the story” affidavit to the more precise, but speculative affidavit. But neither of those extremes can or should suffice.
Before Massachusetts adopted the MUPC, Probate Court Rule 16 governed objections to wills. See e.g. O’Rourke v. Hunter, 446 Mass. 814, 816-817 (2006) (Marshall, C.J.) Rule 16 itself followed the abolition of jury issues in will contests and functioned to screen out frivolous attacks on wills. Id. at 817.
Rule 16 required an objection to articulate specific facts. An administrator could contest lack of specificity in an objection either by a motion to strike or motion for summary judgment-one did not need to exhaust objections before seeking summary judgment. O’Rourke, 446 Mass. at 818-821. But specificity remained the touchstone of an adequate objection. See e.g. Sher v. Desmond, 70 Mass. App. Ct. 270, 279, n.11 (2007).
Today, G.L. c.190B, §1-401(e)-(f) governs objections. Objections still require specific facts and must include supporting affidavits. The affidavit should stem from personal knowledge and should contain as much detail as the drafter knows. Compare Mass. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e) (governing affidavits in summary judgment.) Allegations of fraud should be stated with particularity. Compare Mass. R. Civ. Pro. 9(b). A best practice is for the drafter (i.e., counsel) to reserve the right to supplement the affidavit as discovery proceeds.
Under the MUPC, it is the timeliness of an objection, however, that is of more critical importance. If an objector lacks sufficient information to develop an appropriate affidavit within the applicable time period (the return date set by the court or otherwise by statute), practitioners should: (1) act quickly to propound discovery on the petitioner (and any other person or entity with relevant information) under Supp. Prob. Ct. R. 27A and (2) concomitantly move to extend the deadline for filing the affidavit of objections.
- Leighton v. Hallstrom-Case Study of a Successful Objection
Despite the strict time requirements for filing an objection and the need for a detailed affidavit, a recent Appeals Court decision suggests that substance ultimately prevails over form when considering the adequacy of an objection.
In Leighton v. Hallstrom, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 439 (2018), a magistrate endorsed Leighton’s petition for a formal adjudication of intestacy, determination of heirs, and Leighton’s appointment as personal representative of the decedent’s estate. Prior to the entry of the decree, Hallstrom came forward and announced himself as an interested person and first cousin of the decedent. On a pre-printed Probate and Family Court form (MPC 505a), Hallstrom also filed a notice of appearance but did not check the box that his appearance was an objection. In the interim, the magistrate entered a decree on another pre-printed form but left blank the fields for specific individual heirs, instead referring back to the petition.
Hallstrom unsuccessfully tried to persuade Leighton of his lineage to the deceased, including with a genealogical chart. Leighton later petitioned for a complete settlement and Hallstrom objected. The Probate Court judge struck Hallstrom’s objection as tardy and because the magistrate’s initial decree resolved who the heirs were. Hallstrom appealed.
The Appeals Court reversed. The Appeals Court noted that although the MUPC imposed strict time constraints for objections, the true issue was not timeliness but the legal significance of the decree-which did not explicitly list any heirs. Instead, the decree referred back to the petition, which specifically listed Hallstrom as a purported heir. Moreover, the Personal Representative was aware of Hallstrom’s claims. Thus, since the decree did not resolve the issue of who the heirs were, there was no legal basis to preclude Hallstrom’s objection. 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 446, citing and quoting Day v. Kerkorian, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 804, 809 (2004) (“Issue preclusion is not available where there is ‘ambiguity concerning the issues, the basis of decision, and what was deliberately left open by the judge.’”).
Leighton illustrates that practitioners should not avoid nor courts discourage limited objections. Indeed, the Probate and Family Court’s pre-printed forms like MPC 505a can lend themselves to ambiguity. So long as the substance of the objection is there, the objection suffices. Indeed, if there is a need to amend the objection, practitioners can and should amend fairly and freely, as they could under former Rule 16. See e.g. Hobbs v. Carroll, 34 Mass. App. Ct. 951 (1993), citing Mass. R. Civ. Pro. 15.
- Cusack v. Clasby: Are Objections or Contempt Actions Your Recourse for Bad Administration?
The manner of probating the estate may raise concerns. Is filing an objection to an account the best mechanism to address concerns? Depending on the information known to the interested person and the status of a matter, a petition to remove the personal representative might be the appropriate course. However, if a first and final account has been filed, and the deadline for objections has been set, a potential objector has a limited time period to act.
Cusack v. Clasby, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 756 (2019), illustrates this point. Catherine Cusack died in June 2014, survived by eight children, all equal heirs. Clasby, one of her daughters, and the administrator of her estate, petitioned to probate the estate in October and filed a petition for an order of complete settlement in December 2015. Three of Clasby’s siblings objected, asserting that the final accounting reflected disbursements that had not in fact occurred. A judge in the Probate Court struck the objections, approved the final accounting, and settled the estate. The siblings appealed, asserting that settling the estate was premature.
The Appeals Court affirmed the settlement and rejected this contention. The Appeals Court noted that before Massachusetts adopted the MUPC, settlement was indeed incomplete until all payments were made by the estate. 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 758, citing former G.L. c.206, §22. However, the MUPC expressly repealed and displaced this principle. Id. at 759, citing G.L. c.190B, §3-1001. Similarly, the MUPC also permitted Clasby, as an administrator, to approve accounting and distribution of the estate. Id.. at 758.
Thus, the Probate Court judge had authority to jointly approve the accounting and settle the estate. Indeed, the joint order furthered the purpose of the MUPC to spur a “speedy and efficient system for liquidating [an] estate of [a] decedent and making [distributions.]” 94 Mass. App. Ct. at 759, quoting G.L. c.190B, §1-102(b)(3). Finally, the siblings were not without recourse-they could petition for contempt for violations of a court order. Id. at 759.
Cusack raises an important practical question about how to redress problems during distribution. On the one hand, procedurally, a contempt action does have benefits. A decree settling an estate certainly constitutes a court order for purposes of contempt. The Probate and Family Court also deals with contempt every day. Contempt actions also proceed under the same docket without a separate filing fee, and a successful litigant may recover their attorney’s fees.
Substantively however, a contempt action after distribution may not provide an ideal solution. Contempt has to be proven by clear and convincing evidence and not every violation of a court order constitutes a contempt. Indeed, ambiguous court orders do not lend themselves to contempts. See e.g. Hoort v. Hoort, 85 Mass. App. Ct. 363, 365 (2014). A contempt action may deleteriously prolong and reopen a seemingly settled estate, and thwart the spirit of speedy settlement under the MUPC-or the purpose of former Rule 16 to screen out frivolous contests.
Leighton and Cusack illustrate how will objection practice has developed since Massachusetts adopted the MUPC. While an affidavit in support of an objection should contain specific facts, merely putting the proponent on notice of a problem may suffice if the proponent is relying on a pre-printed probate court form to preclude an issue.
On the other hand, objections no longer function to redress poor or incomplete administration because administration closes comparatively quickly. Whether or not contempt actions against administrators will actually serve the purposes of objections for bad administration will be interesting to see in light of the severe backlogs in certain probate courts.
Timothy F. Robertson is the Principal Attorney of T FRANK LAW, PLLC, a Trusts and Estates law practice in Charlestown, MA. https://www.tfranklaw.com. Tim is grateful to Joe for the opportunity to collaborate and for staying abreast of recent SJC and Appeals Court Decisions.
Joseph N. Schneiderman has an appellate-exclusive practice in Massachusetts and Connecticut and has argued four times in the SJC since 2015. Joe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe gratefully thanks Tim for the opportunity to write and collaborate about important appellate developments in probate law. Joe further dedicates the article to the memory of his grandfather, Natalé “Nat” Memoli.
At the closing of many business transactions, counsel for the company delivers to the other party – e.g., the investor, lender or acquirer – a letter, commonly referred to as a “closing opinion,” in which counsel provides that other party (the opinion recipient) legal opinions on various matters it has asked counsel to address. Though each closing opinion must be tailored to the specific transaction, closing opinions in general tend to address many of the same matters in similar ways from transaction to transaction.
The meaning of opinions and the work required to support them are based on the customary practice of lawyers who regularly give and who regularly advise opinion recipients regarding opinions of the type being given in the transaction. Customary practice allows opinions to be expressed in only a few words and permits the lawyers preparing them to rely on many unstated assumptions and limitations. By amplifying the meaning of abbreviated opinion language, customary practice provides the framework for preparing and interpreting opinions, thus facilitating the opinion process.
As recognized in the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers, Section 95 (Reporter’s Note to Comment c), customary practice is described and discussed in bar association reports and scholarly writings. In 1998, the Boston Bar Association’s (“BBA”) Legal Opinions Committee of the Business Law Section issued a statement in which it characterized the then new TriBar Opinion Committee’s report, “Third-Party ‘Closing’ Opinions,” 53 Bus. Law. 591 (1998), and the “Legal Opinion Principles,” 53 Bus. Law. 831 (1998), published by the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Legal Opinions Committee of the Business Law Section as providing a helpful description of the customary practice followed by Massachusetts lawyers in the preparation and interpretation of closing opinions. In 2002, the ABA’s Legal Opinions Committee issued revised “Guidelines for the Preparation of Closing Opinions,” 57 Bus. Law. 875 (2002) (the “Guidelines”), and, following its 1998 report, the TriBar Opinion Committee supplemented that report with several additional reports. In 2008, the “Statement on the Role of Customary Practice in the Preparation and Understanding of Third-Party Legal Opinions,” 63 Bus. Law. 1277 (2008) (the “Customary Practice Statement”), was published. The Customary Practice Statement was approved by many bar associations and other lawyer groups, including the Boston Bar Association, and described the principal elements of customary practice that form the basis for legal opinion practice.
In its 1998 statement, the BBA had noted the desirability of a “more streamlined opinion letter” that omitted disclaimers, qualifications and assumptions which the Legal Opinion Principles made clear are understood to apply, as a matter of customary practice, whether or not stated expressly. Subsequently, the BBA Legal Opinions Committee prepared a streamlined form of closing opinion that could be used by both opinion givers and opinion recipients. That streamlined form, prepared under the supervision of this article’s authors and representing the work of lawyers in many Boston-area firms, was endorsed by the BBA as a useful document to facilitate the closing opinion process and enhance the efficiency of business transactions and was published in the January/February 2006 issue of the Boston Bar Journal.
Subsequently, effort was undertaken to develop a statement of opinion practices that could be endorsed by many bar associations and other lawyer groups as expressing a national consensus on key aspects of opinion practice based upon customary practice. That effort produced the current “Statement of Opinion Practices” and related “Core Opinion Principles” which updates the Legal Opinion Principles in their entirety and selected provisions of the Guidelines. The Statement and the Core Opinion Principles have been approved by many bar associations and other lawyer groups, including the BBA Council on March 19, 2019. The Core Opinion Principles are derived from the Statement and can be incorporated by reference in or attached to a closing opinion by those who desire to do so.
The authors of this article have updated the BBA Streamlined Form of Closing Opinion to refer to the Core Opinion Principles and to reflect developments in legal opinion practice since 2006 (as updated, the “Streamlined Form”).
The Streamlined Form is not intended to be prescriptive. Rather, reflecting a broad consensus on acceptable opinion practices, the Streamlined Form is designed to serve as a helpful starting point for lawyers in drafting closing opinions and as guidance on the opinions lawyers can advise clients to accept. The Streamlined Form addresses an unsecured bank loan. Attachment A to the Streamlined Form includes opinions that would typically be given on the issuance of stock. The explanatory notes to the Streamlined Form, while intended to provide helpful information, cannot substitute for the extensive literature that exists on closing opinions.
The Streamlined Form seeks to address opinion issues in a balanced way. Some noteworthy features are:
- The language used to incorporate deﬁnitions from the underlying agreement is more precise than language often used in closing opinions.
- The Form avoids the use of the phrase “to our knowledge,” which courts have not consistently interpreted as a limitation. Note 22 suggests a formulation that makes clear that this phrase, if used, is intended as a limitation.
- The Form sharpens the description in the introductory paragraphs of the factual investigation undertaken, thus avoiding the suggestion that the opinion preparers conducted a broader investigation than actually performed. The description also makes clear that the opinion preparers may have relied on certiﬁcates of public ofﬁcials for legal matters.
- The corporate status opinion does not use the terms “duly incorporated” or “duly organized” for the reasons explained in note 9. The elimination of these terms has been widely accepted by opinion recipients.
- Paragraph 4 contains a more precise formulation of the no violation of law and no breach or default opinions than appeared in the original form.
- Note 17 provides an analysis of the Restatement approach for determining when the governing law provision in an agreement should be given effect. The Restatement approach has been adopted in Massachusetts and many other states.
- Note 18 addresses opinions on the enforceability of forum selection provisions. Although rarely seen in domestic transactions, separate opinions on the enforceability of forum selection provisions are often given in cross-border transactions.
- The Form proposes a formulation of the no-litigation “opinion” that is narrower than the one often used in the past. (The “opinion” is a factual conﬁrmation and therefore more accurately referred to as a no-litigation conﬁrmation). Use of a narrower formulation is an alternative to declining to cover litigation at all. The omission of any statement regarding litigation in closing opinions has gained increased acceptance.
- The Form includes a provision, often referred to as the “Wachovia provision,” that makes clear limitations on the right of assignees of notes to rely on a closing opinion.
- Attachment A addresses opinions on a corporation’s outstanding capital stock and rights to acquire stock. It also includes a form of opinion that the issuance of the stock does not require registration under the Securities Act of 1933.
- The Form leaves space for exceptions rather than identifying particular exceptions, including those that are commonly taken.
No form can accommodate every factual situation or eliminate the need for lawyers to exercise care in preparing closing opinions. Nevertheless, lawyers who have treated the streamlined form of closing opinion as a starting point in drafting their closing opinions have found that it improves the efﬁciency of the opinion process. We are hopeful that its approach will continue to gain acceptance to the mutual beneﬁt of both opinion givers and opinion recipients.
Donald W. Glazer is Advisory Counsel to Goodwin Procter LLP and co-author of the treatise, Glazer and FitzGibbon on Legal Opinions. Stanley Keller is a Senior Partner in the Boston office of Locke Lord LLP.
by Victoria Fuller
Superior Court Rule 9A was amended effective November 1, 2018. Although the Rule has been amended several times in the last few years, the most recent changes are big. Really big. Everything from cross-motions to summary judgment to basic formatting have been revised. Superior Court practitioners who fail to familiarize themselves with these changes risk having motions returned or denied.
Summary Judgment Packages Get Leaner
The biggest change to Rule 9A affects summary judgment procedure. These changes are geared to slimming down filings and simplifying the issues before the Court. First, the Statement of Facts, as served, cannot exceed 20 pages, and cannot include several types of facts:
- Immaterial Background facts;
- Quotations from, or characterizations of, transactional documents (“except if admissible through percipient witnesses”); and
- Quotations from statutes, regulations or rules.
Parties may submit these types of material, without argument or commentary, in an addendum to the party’s memorandum.
Second, the rule limits the permissible scope of responses to the Statement of Facts by prohibiting some common responses that have complicated the Court’s ability to determine what facts are actually disputed in good faith. Opposing parties may state whether a fact is disputed, and if so, cite supporting record evidence. They may not, however:
- Deny a fact, or state that a fact is not supported by the cited materials, without a good faith basis;
- Comment on whether the fact is relevant or material. The opposing party may, however, state that the fact is admitted solely for purposes of summary judgment;
- Assert additional facts; or
- Include legal argument or advocacy concerning the sufficiency, relevance or materiality of the fact.
Third, opposing parties are no longer permitted to serve Statements of Additional Facts, except in support of a cross-motion for summary judgment. They may, however, include additional facts in their opposition with supporting record citations. The rule also directs the parties to cite both the joint appendix exhibit number and the corresponding paragraph in the Statement of Facts in their memoranda.
In addition, three types of summary judgment motions may now be denied by the Court on the papers:
- Multiple motions made by the same party, or a motion filed by a party sharing similar interests with a party who has already moved for summary judgment, which raises issues previously resolved by the Court;
- Motions for partial summary judgment that will save little to no trial time, will not simplify trial, or will not promote resolution of the case; and
- Motions where a genuine dispute of material fact is obvious.
Finally, the rule has updated sanctions for non-compliance with the summary judgment provisions. The court may not consider the motion or opposition, may return the submission to counsel with instructions for re-filing, or may impose other sanctions for flagrant violations.
Cross-Motions Are Integrated Into a Single Filing Package
The rule has now filled a procedural gap affecting cross-motions. For example, if a party serves a motion to compel, and the opposing party serves an opposition and a cross-motion for protective order: Under the old rule, the cross-motion was not required to be included in the same 9A package. As a consequence, the motion to compel could be filed and heard before briefing on the cross motion was complete.
Under the new rule, opposing parties serve cross-motions with their opposition to the original motion. The original moving party then serves the reply (if any) and opposition to the cross-motion. The original moving party files both motions and oppositions as part of the same 9A package.
Cross-motions for summary judgment generally follow the same process, but in addition, a Consolidated Statement of Facts is prepared.
Parties Must Now Confer on Dispositive Motions
The new Rules 9A and 9C extend meet and confer obligations to dispositive motions (with limited exceptions). Motions lacking a 9C certificate under the new rule, as under the old, will be denied without prejudice.
New Procedure for Requesting Leave
Parties must still seek leave to file additional briefing and pages, which will be granted only in “exceptional circumstances.”
Rule 9A(a)(6) also sets forth a new procedure for requesting leave. Letter requests are gone. Now, requests must be captioned as a pleading, not exceed one page, state the grounds for the relief sought, and include a certificate of service. The request is sent to the session clerk, captioned “ATTN: Session Judge.” If the Court grants a request for additional pages, this will apply to the opposing party’s memorandum as well, unless otherwise ordered. The permitted pleading must state the date on which leave was allowed. Note that a request for leave does not extend the date for filing the Rule 9A package, unless permitted by Court or by agreement of the parties.
Under the old rule, papers had to be typed in “no less than 12-point type.” Now, papers must be 12-point type – no more, no less. In addition, quotes and footnotes must also be 12-point type. An addendum that sets forth “verbatim and without argument, pertinent excerpts from key documents, statutes, regulations or the like” need not be included in counting permitted pages.
Finally, email addresses must be included in the signature block or the attorney must certify that he or she lacks one.
Service on Non-Parties Now Required In Limited Circumstances
Unless excused by court order, or where ex parte relief is authorized by statute or rule, the new rule requires service on non-parties under three circumstances:
- the motion seeks to add the non-party as a party to the case;
- the motion seeks an order or other relief against the non-party; or
- the motion addresses issues which affect the personal information or other interests of the non-party.
Electronic Service Now Permitted
Many practitioners will rejoice that email service is now permitted. The parties must agree in writing, and parties must include “served via email” on their filings for the clerk to accept scanned signatures. That said, parties filing papers signed under the penalties of perjury, such as affidavits, and all required 9A certifications, must bear original signatures.
Motions Exempt from Rule 9A
Finally, the new Rule 9A adds two categories of motions as exempt: motions governed by e-filing rules, and review of decisions of administrative agencies.
The new rule also seeks to prevent parties from trying to skirt Rule 9A by declaring a motion an “emergency.” Now, parties filing emergency motions must certify that they have made a good faith effort to confer with all parties, and must state whether any party assents to or opposes the motion.
Though extensive, these changes should streamline and improve Superior Court motion practice. Prudent practitioners will ensure that they, and other attorneys in their firm or organization, familiarize themselves, and comply, with the new rule.
R. Victoria Fuller is an attorney in the Boston office of White and Williams LLP. Her practice focuses on insurance law, employment law, and general commercial litigation.
Standing in the Wake of Rental Property Management Services v. Hatcher: Only the Owner or Lessor May Use Summary Process to Evict Tenants and Property Agents that File Such Actions Are Engaging in the Unauthorized Practice of LawPosted: November 6, 2018
by Lauren D. Song
On May 15, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court articulated a bright line rule strictly construing the summary process statute, G.L. c. 239, § 1 (“Statute”), to hold that “[o]nly a person entitled to the property as owner or lessor may bring an action to recover possession” against a tenant, and non-attorney property agents who sign and file summary process complaints on behalf of owners are “engag[ing] in the unauthorized practice of law.” Rental Property Management Services v. Hatcher, 479 Mass. 542, 547 (2018) (“Hatcher”). In rejecting the application of agency principles that would enlarge standing in summary process to property agents, the Court also admonished that the unauthorized practice of law by such agents “seriously undermines the fairness of summary process…, especially where the vast majority of tenants in such cases are self-represented.” Id. at 553-554, n. 11. This article discusses procedural considerations in determining summary process standing in the wake of Hatcher.
Determining Whether Standing Exists In Fact
Hatcher comes at a time when the majority of the nation’s 47.5 million residential rental units is no longer owned by “mom-and-pop” landlords personally known to the tenants but by institutional and corporate owners that often remain undisclosed to tenants. Such owners typically operate through property agents so tenants may not know that the party to whom they tender rent is not the owner of the property. Tenants also often are not privy to changes in the ownership interests—e.g., through foreclosures, dissolutions, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies, and even assignment of leases–that may affect who has standing to bring and maintain an eviction action against them. See Billings v. GTFM, LLC, 449 Mass. 281, 289-96 (2007) (standing must exist as of the commencement of the action and continue throughout the litigation). And as the Court highlighted in Hatcher, a “plaintiff’s lack of standing will not be apparent on the face of the [summary process] complaint,” because the form complaint promulgated under the Uniform Summary Process Rules (“USPR”) which govern summary process proceedings identifies all pleaders categorically as “PLAINTIFF/LANDLORD/OWNER.” 479 Mass. at 548. Notwithstanding challenges to determining whether plaintiff-standing exists in fact,” in fiscal year 2017 alone, 40,503 summary process cases were filed throughout Massachusetts in which over 90% of the tenants were self-represented.
Summary Process Standing Cannot Be Delegated to Agents
Hatcher rejects agent standing in summary process based on the well-established principle that “[s]ummary process is a purely statutory procedure and can be maintained only in the instances specifically provided for in the statute.” Id. at 546, quoting Cummings v. Wajda, 325 Mass. 242, 243 (1950); see also Buron v. Brown, 336 Mass. 734, 736 (1958) (“The purpose of [the Statute] is to give possession to those whose possession has been invaded or who have a right to possession and are within a category defined therein.”). In actions against tenants, therefore, “it is essential that there should be proof of the relation of lessor and lessee, or of landlord and tenant, between the plaintiff and defendant.” Id., quoting Ratner v. Hogan, 251 Mass. 163, 165 (1925).
Hatcher also squarely holds that the standing requirements in summary process are jurisdictional: “where the plaintiff lacks standing to bring an action, the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter and must therefore dismiss the action.” Id. And since “[s]ubject matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by consent, conduct or waiver,” id., quoting Litton Business Sys., Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 383 Mass. 619, 622 (1981), it is legally ineffective for owners or lessors to purport to authorize their agents to bring summary process actions to evict their tenants:
“it is legally irrelevant whether the plaintiff is the agent or attorney of the owner or lessor, or whether the plaintiff has obtained the express approval of the owner or lessor to bring the action in the plaintiff’s name. Only a person entitled to the property as owner or lessor may bring an action to recover possession of that property. See G.L. c. 239, § 1.”
Id. at 547-548 (emphasis added).
Who Bears the Burden of Proof on Plaintiff’s Standing?
In most civil actions, jurisdictional standing is a threshold issue typically resolved early by a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Mass. R. Civ. P. (“Rule”) 12(b)(1), and/or for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). In the fast pace of summary process, however, standing is seldom challenged and if at all, usually raised in the context of a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, as in Hatcher. How jurisdictional facts become controverted is important on who bears the burden of proof. Williams v. Episcopal Diocese of Mass., 436 Mass. 574, 577 n.2 (2002).
- Under Rule 12(b)(1), the burden remains with the plaintiff as the party invoking standing to prove its jurisdictional facts by a preponderance of the evidence, and the court does not assume the plaintiff’s factual allegations in the complaint to be true. Caffyn v. Caffyn, 441 Mass. 487 (2004).
- Under Rule 56, the burden shifts to the tenant as the moving party to establish that the plaintiff has no reasonable expectation of proving it is a “person entitled to the land or tenements” under the Statute, and the record would be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the non-moving party. SeeKourouvacilis v. General Motors Corp., 410 Mass. 706, 716 (1991).
It bears caution that consideration of matters outside the pleadings will convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a motion for summary judgment, with the corresponding burden shifting to the tenant as the moving party, but “[s]uch is not the case when deciding a motion to dismiss under [R]ule 12(b)(1)” where the conversion to Rule 56 principle does not apply. Watros v. Greater Lynn Mental Health & Retardation Ass’n, Inc., 421 Mass. 106, 109 (1995). When motions to dismiss are filed under both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), courts ordinarily decide the Rule 12(b)(1) motion first. See Northeast Erectors Ass’n of BTEA v. Secretary of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Admin., 62 F.3d 37, 39 (1st Cir. 1995).
- Under Rule 12(h)(3), “whenever it becomes apparent to a court in a summary process action that a plaintiff may not be the owner or lessor of the property, the court is obligated to inquire into the plaintiff’s standing and, if it determines that the plaintiff lacks standing, it must dismiss the action [with prejudice] for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, regardless of whether any party raises an issue of standing.” Hatcher, 479 Mass. at 547.
It also bears reminder that in discharging this independent obligation, judges have broad discretion to make findings outside the four corners of the pleadings and to use any method of obtaining evidence, including ordering discovery, affidavits or other documentary evidence and taking depositions and oral testimony. Ginter v. Commissioner of Ins., 427 Mass. 319 (1998).
Dismissal with Prejudice Is Compulsory If the Plaintiff Lacks Standing
Hatcher also mandates that “where the plaintiff in a summary process action is neither the owner nor the lessor of the property, the court must dismiss the complaint with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction” because the “lack of standing is also fatal to the merits of the plaintiff’s claim” for possession. Id. at 547 (italics added). This bright line rule reflects that under USPR 2, summary process actions are deemed commenced only upon service on the defendant of “a properly completed” complaint (after which the original complaint is filed in court), and a complaint that fails to name a plaintiff with a statutory entitlement to recovery of possession is not only incompetent to commence a justiciable action but also determinative that the plaintiff’s claim for possession is without legal merit. And while such dismissal with prejudice “would not bar the true owner or lessor of the property from filing a new complaint,” where the complaint fails to name the true owner or lessor of the property as the plaintiff in the first instance, the court is without discretion to permit any amendment, substitution or other corrective remedy but must dismiss the complaint with prejudice.
In contrast, if the complaint names a proper plaintiff but is improperly signed, filed and/or prosecuted by a non-attorney agent, a valid summary process action has commenced, and although the court must address the unauthorized practice of law by the agent, the judge has the discretion either to order the immediate dismissal of the action, or allow a conditional dismissal “on a designated date unless the plaintiff before that date retains counsel or proceeds pro se, and amends the complaint accordingly.” Id. at 551.
It bears reminder that any judgment issued without valid subject matter jurisdiction is void. Harris v. Sannella, 400 Mass. 392 (1987). And the defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived for any reason and may be raised at any time, even after final judgment is entered and for the first time on appeal sua sponte by the appellate court. Id. at 54, n. 5, citing ROPT Ltd. Partnership v. Katin, 431 Mass. 601, 607 (2000); see also Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 412 Mass. 243 (1992); Talmo v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 93 Mass. App. Ct. 926 (2018). While the dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is ordinarily considered a “final order” subject to immediate appellate review de novo, the denial of a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is an interlocutory order.
In the wake of Hatcher, parties now have clear guidelines and strong incentives to resolve promptly any questions that may impact the plaintiff’s standing. By reviewing early and updating regularly information relevant to the parties’ status with respect to the property at issue, parties can avoid considerable expense, trouble, and delay in the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of their rights and obligations under the Statute.
Lauren D. Song is a senior attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services. Her practice focuses on affordable housing preservation and development through public-private partnerships and residential landlord-tenant law. She is a current member of the Boston Bar Journal.
The Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (“DWBR”), G.L. c. 149, §§ 190–191, enacted in 2015, provided expansive new protections to domestic workers and imposed new obligations on their employers. Violation of the DWBR can result in substantial penalties, including mandatory treble damages, attorneys’ fees and costs. Employers who fail to comply with the DWBR can face enforcement actions by the Attorney General (“AG”), the aggrieved worker, or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”). Yet, many remain unfamiliar with the DWBR and its implementing regulations. 940 CMR 32.00. This article reviews key provisions of the DWBR.
Who Is Covered?
The DWBR protects workers employed within a household, regardless of their immigration status, who perform domestic services, including housekeeping, house cleaning, nanny or home companion services, and in-home caretaking of sick or elderly individuals for “wage, remuneration or other compensation.” G.L. c. 149, § 190(a); 940 CMR 32.02. The DWBR does not alter who is deemed an independent contractor (rather than domestic employee) under G.L. c. 149, § 148B.
The DWBR does not cover: (i) babysitters who work less than sixteen hours per week providing “casual, intermittent and “irregular” childcare, and whose primary job is not childcare; (ii) personal care attendants (“PCAs”) who provide services under the MassHealth PCA program; and (iii) employees of a licensed or registered staffing, employment or placement agency. G.L. c. 149, § 190(a); 940 CMR 32.02.
The DBWR requires employers to provide domestic workers with “notice of all applicable state and federal laws.” G.L. c. 149, § 190(m); 940 CMR 32.04(6). “Notice of Rights” and “Record of Information for Domestic Workers” forms can be found on the AG’s website. Additionally, before work commences, employers must provide domestic workers who work sixteen or more hours a week a written employment agreement in a language the worker understands. The agreement should contain the terms and conditions of employment and specify any deductible fees or costs and worker’s rights to grievance, privacy, and notice of termination. G.L. c. 149, § 190(l); 940 CMR 32.04(3).
Both employer and worker must sign the agreement, which must be kept on file for at least three years. A “Model Domestic Worker Employment Agreement” can be found on the AG’s website.
Working Hours, Rest Periods
Domestic workers must be paid for all time they are required to be on the employer’s premises, on duty, or any time worked before or beyond normally scheduled shifts to complete the work. G.L. c. 149, § 190(a); 940 CMR 32.02.
Workers on duty for less than twenty-four consecutive hours who do not reside on the employer’s premises must be paid for all working time, including meal, rest or sleep periods, unless the worker is free to leave the premises and completely relieved of all work-related duties during that period. G.L. c. 149, § 190(a) and (c).
For workers on duty for twenty-four hours or more, all meal, rest and sleep periods constitute working time. However, the worker and employer can agree to exclude from working time a regularly scheduled sleeping period of not more than eight hours if there is advance written agreement in a language understood by the worker, signed by both the worker and employer. G.L. c. 149, § 190(d) and (e); 940 CMR 32.03(2).
Workers working forty or more hours per week must have at least twenty-four consecutive hours off each week and at least forty-eight hours off each month. A worker may volunteer to work on a day of rest but only if there is a written agreement made in advance, signed or acknowledged by both the worker and employer. The worker must be paid time and a half for all hours worked in excess of forty hours. G.L. c. 149, § 190(b); 940 CMR 32.03(3).
Under certain circumstances, an employer may deduct food, beverages and lodging costs from a worker’s wages. G.L. c. 149, § 190(f) and (g); 940 CMR 32.03(5)(b) and (c). Such deductions are subject to the statutory maximums found in 454 CMR 27.05(3) pursuant to G.L. c. 151.
Food and beverage costs can be deducted only if they are voluntarily and freely chosen by the worker. If the worker cannot easily bring, prepare or consume meals on the premises, the employer cannot make such deductions. G.L. c. 149, § 190(f); 940 CMR 32.03(5)(b).
Lodging costs can be deducted only if the worker voluntarily and freely accepts and actually uses the lodging. An employer cannot deduct lodging costs if the employer requires the worker live in the employer’s home or in a particular location. G.L. c. 149, § 190(g); 940 CMR 32.03(5)(c).
There must be a written agreement specifying the deductions, made in advance, in a language understood by the worker, signed or acknowledged by both the worker and employer. 940 CMR 32.03(5)(a).
Record Keeping, Times Sheets, Written Evaluations
Employers must keep records of domestic workers’ wages and hours for three years. G.L. c. 149, § 190(l); 940 CMR 32.04(2). Employers must provide workers who work more than sixteen hours per week with a time sheet at least once every two weeks. 940 CMR 32.04(4). Both the worker and employer must sign or acknowledge the time sheet. Signing or acknowledging a time sheet does not preclude a worker from claiming that additional wages are owed. Id. Likewise, a worker’s refusal to sign or acknowledge a time sheet does not relieve the employer from paying wages owed. Id. A sample time sheet can be found on the AG’s website.
After three months, a worker may request a written performance evaluation and, thereafter, annually. G.L. c. 149, § 190(j). The worker can inspect and dispute the evaluation under G.L. c. 149, § 52C, the Massachusetts Personnel Records law. Id.
Right to Privacy
The DWBR prohibits employers from restricting, interfering with or monitoring a worker’s private communications and from taking a worker’s documents or other personal effects. G.L. c. 149, § 190(i); 940 CMR 32.03(6). Additionally, employers are barred from monitoring a worker’s use of bathrooms and sleeping and dressing quarters. Id.
A worker who resides in the employer’s home must be given access to telephone and internet services, including text messaging, social media and e-mail, without the employer’s interference. 940 CMR 32.03(8).
Prohibition Against Trafficking, Harassment and Retaliation
It is a violation of the DWBR (and a crime) for employers to engage in any conduct that constitutes forced services or trafficking of a person for sexual servitude or forced services under G.L. c. 265, §§ 49-51. G.L. c. 149, § 190(i); 940 CMR 32.03(7).
The DWBR protects both domestic workers, as well as PCAs, from discrimination and harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, age, religion, national origin or disability and from retaliation for exercising their rights. G.L. c. 191; 940 CMR 35.05(2).
Domestic workers are entitled to job-protected leave for the birth or adoption of a child under the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act, G.L. c. 149, § 105D. Id.
Employers who terminate live-in workers “for cause” must provide the worker with advance written notice and at least 48 hours to leave. G.L. c. 149, § 190(k); 940 CMR 32.03(9)(c).
Employers who terminate live-in workers “without cause” must provide the worker with written notice and at least thirty days of lodging or two weeks severance pay. G.L. c. 149, § 190(k); 940 CMR 32.03(9)(a).
Neither notice nor severance is required where good faith allegations are made in writing that the worker abused, neglected or caused any other harmful conduct against the employer or members of the employer’s family or individuals residing in the employer’s home. G.L. c. 149, § 190(k); 940 CMR 32.03(9)(b).
No termination notice or severance is required for workers who do not reside in the employer’s home.
Violations of the DWBR are enforced by the AG or by the aggrieved worker pursuant to the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, § 150. Workers who prevail in court are awarded treble damages, the costs of litigation and attorneys’ fees. Violations of the DWBR’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment provisions are enforced by the MCAD.
Andrea Peraner-Sweet is a partner at Fitch Law Partners LLP. Her practice focuses on general business litigation with an emphasis on employment litigation as well as probate litigation.