Thursday, March 27, 2008

Parent Education Program Changes

Earlier this week, the Mass. Probate and Family Court issued Standing Order 4-08, which replaces Standing Order 1-03, Parent Education Program Attendance. According to the press release, "The change to the Standing Order requires that the parties pay $80.00 to the provider in advance of the class to offset the cost of materials and facilitators. This fee may be reduced to $5.00 upon a party submitting a copy of his or her allowed Affidavit of Indigency and Request for Waiver, Substitution or State Payment of Fees and Costs. Parties have paid $65.00 to the providers since 2003." The new order is effective April 7, 2008.

This and other Probate Court Standing Orders are available at Mass. Court Rules.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Medical Certificate in Guardianship

The Mass. Probate and Family Court announced today a new form for medical certificate in guardianship cases which must be used beginning April 15, 2008. "While the form is long, it will provide judges with the information they need in making the important decision of whether to interfere with the fundamental liberty interest of an individual to make decisions for themselves, in whole or in part, by entering a guardianship decree."

Thanks to Leanna Hamill's Massachusetts Estate Planning and Elder Law blog for bringing the new form to our attention last week. She writes, "The old form was 2 pages, and consisted mostly of blank lines, which left it up to the doctor filling the form to come with what information he or she thought was needed. The new form is 8 pages, and requires much more detailed information from the doctor. It also requires the doctor to specify whether a limited guardianship or a full guardianship is needed. "

Monday, March 24, 2008

Regulating Smoking at Home

Last week, Boston Globe Magazine took on the issue of regulating smoking in multi-unit housing in Snuffing Out Puffing Neighbors. The article explores the move toward restricting smoking further in Massachusetts, and suggests that landlords already have options. “Many landlords are under the impression that it is illegal to ban smoking in apartments. Not so, says Eileen Sullivan, director of policy and planning for the state's Tobacco Control Program: ’We see it as similar to the issue of whether to allow pets.’” More on all aspects of smoking regulation is available at Mass. Law About Smoking.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Boston Limits Student Roommates

On Wednesday, the Boston Zoning Board unanimously approved a measure that limits undergraduate students in the city to no more than four roommates per apartment. The new limits, effective March 13, 2008, apply only to "full-time undergraduate students at a post-secondary educational institution" and do not apply to graduate students or to other unrelated groups of people.

According to the Boston Globe, "opponents, many of them property owners and college students, said the occupancy limit violated their property rights and unfairly singled out a specific group of people. " Supporters, on the other hand, "said it would help prevent landlords from turning single- and two-family homes into high-rent, multibedroom apartments for large numbers of students. "

More information on landlord-tenant issues is available at Mass. Law About Landlord and Tenant.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Heat Shutoff Protection Extended to May 1

Under 220 CMR 25, utilities cannot shut off heat to certain qualified households between November 15 and March 15. This year, according to their press release, "the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has asked each of the state’s electric and natural gas companies to extend until May 1 the current moratorium on winter utility shut-offs."

This extension is voluntary, however, and while in previous years all utilities have complied with the request, they are under no obligation to do so. You should check with your utility or the DPU to determine whether your utility has agreed to the deadline extension. According to the DPU Legal Division, "so far, two major companies, KeySpan (including National Grid) and NSTAR have agreed to extend the moratorium."

More information on winter heating help and other heating requirements is available at Mass. Law About Winter Heating.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cutting Down Neighbor's Trees is Costly

Last week, the Mass. Appeals Court issued an opinion in Glavin v. Eckman, 71 Mass. App. Ct. 313 (2008), a case in which Martha's Vineyard property owners and their tree contractor cut down ten mature trees on a neighbor's property to improve their own view of the ocean. The court upheld a jury award granting the wronged property owner the $30,000 replacement cost of the trees, rather than damages measured by the worth of the timber or diminution of the property's value.

"The trees represented decades of natural growth that could not easily be replicated. Moreover, any diminution in market value arising from the wrongful cutting was of less importance than was the destruction of the special value that the land and its stand of mature oak trees held for Glavin." "A plaintiff may opt for either the value of the timber cut or the diminution in value of his property as the measure of damages under the statute, ... and when the latter measure does not fairly measure his damages, he may permissibly opt for restoration cost damages. "

With damages tripled under G. L. c. 242, § 7, the award came to $90,000 plus interest. According to the Boston Herald, measuring damages by replacement cost in such a case is "an apparent first" and contractor Fragosa's "lawyer John Amabile said he expects to appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court, hoping to stop Glavin from 'putting ($120,000) in his pocket for 10 scrub oaks.'"

Much more information on tree issues is available at Mass. Law About Neighbors and Trees.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Privilege Logs

Effective April 1, 2008, parties who make a claim of privilege or protection in response to a discovery request for documents will be required to prepare a "privilege log" under new Civil Procedure Rule 26(b)(5) issued last week. The log must contain "the respective author(s) and sender(s) if different; the recipient(s); the date and type of document, written communication or thing not produced; and in general terms, the subject matter of the withheld information."

According to the Reporter's Notes accompanying the rule, "The requirement of a privilege log applies to a claim of privilege or right to protection asserted by a party only. This rule imposes no obligation to provide a privilege log on the part of a non-party who withholds privileged information after service of a subpoena for the production of documentary evidence under Rule 45(b), although a court would appear to have authority to order preparation of a log."

The full text of all Massachusetts civil rules is available at Mass. Rules of Civil Procedure.