September 26, 2022
Prince Lobel Partner Jeffrey Pyle’s recent appellate victory in a case involving the Massachusetts Anti-SLAPP Law was the lead story this week in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
The case centered around a dispute between owners of adjoining parcels of land over the proposed development of one of the parcels. Developers Jonathan Nyberg and Sara Dolan wanted to build a residence on vacant land in Arlington. Neighbors R. Bruce and Susan Wheltle sued in Land Court, alleging that some of the land on which the developers wanted to build actually belonged to the Wheltles under the doctrine of adverse possession. The Wheltles won their Land Court case in part, but soon thereafter, the developers sued them in Superior Court for abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming $750,000 in attorney’s fees and emotional distress.
The Superior Court dismissed the case under the state’s Anti-SLAPP Law, which protects the constitutional right to petition the government, including the courts, against “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” The Superior Court found that the case was based solely on the Wheltles’ partially-successful Land Court petitioning, and that the developers were primarily motivated by the desire to retaliate against them for that petitioning.
The appeals court affirmed, finding that the Superior Court judge applied the relevant framework to grant a special motion to dismiss under the state’s anti-SLAPP law. As the article explains, the Appeals Court questioned certain standards put in place in 2017 by the Supreme Judicial Court, directing lower courts on how to resolve Anti-SLAPP motions. The article also mentions an analysis Pyle wrote for Prince Lobel’s website in 2017 on how the SJC’s developments in the law have weakened the protection of the anti-SLAPP law.