Thursday, July 31, 2008

1913 Law Repealed

Within the past hour, Gov. Patrick signed S.800 repealing the 1913 law (MGL c.207, s.11-12) that barred couples from marrying in Massachusetts if that marriage was prohibited in their home state. The law had stopped same-sex couples from nearly all other states from marrying here. Because the bill included an emergency preamble, same-sex couples from other states can begin marrying in Massachusetts immediately. Well, almost immediately. There is a three-day waiting period in Massachusetts (MGL c.207, s.19) which can be waived in some circumstances (MGL c.207, s.30). See Mass. Law About Marriage for links to more information and forms.

Mass. Comes Closer to Allowing Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriage

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts House voted 119-36 to pass S.800, which repeals the 1913 law forbidding out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying here. The measure had been approved by the state Senate earlier this month, and Governor Patrick is expected to sign it this week. Because the House approved an emergency preamble to the measure, the change will take effect as soon as the Governor signs the bill.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guidelines on Personal Identifying Data in Court Records

The Supreme Judicial Court is soliciting comments on Proposed Interim Guidelines for the Protection of Personal Identifying Data in Publicly Accessible Court Documents through September 19, 2008. "The proposed Interim Guidelines are intended to prevent the unnecessary inclusion of certain personal identifying data elements in publicly-accessible documents filed with or issued by the courts, in order to minimize the opportunity to use such documents for identity theft or other improper purposes."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SJC Adopts "Loss of Chance" Doctrine

In two cases decided today, Matsuyama v. Birnbaum and Renzi v. Paredes, the Supreme Judicial Court announced that patients can recover for a reduction in the chance of survival due to medical malpractice. "Where a physician's negligence reduces or eliminates the patient's prospects for achieving a more favorable medical outcome, the physician has harmed the patient and is liable for damages. Permitting recovery for loss of chance is particularly appropriate in the area of medical negligence. Our decision today is limited to such claims."

Damages are to be measured by the "proportional damages method." "Applying the proportional damages method, the court must first measure the monetary value of the patient's full life expectancy and, if relevant, work life expectancy as it would in any wrongful death case. But the defendant must then be held liable only for the portion of that value that the defendant's negligence destroyed."

Access to and Sealing of District Court Records

The District Court has issued a revised version of A Guide to Public Access, Sealing & Expungement of District Court Records. This is a publication we have long loved in the law libraries for its clarity in explaining which court records are available to the public and which are not. Unfortunately, it does not explain the process of access or what information the researcher needs to provide in order to access records. The sections on sealing and expungement are also clearly written, well annotated, and include forms.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Census Won't Count Same-Sex Marriages

As information professionals, we have to lament a decision by the Census Bureau, as reported in the Washington Post, to deliberately misreport same-sex marriages in the 2010 census. According to the article, same-sex couples in Massachusetts and California who are legally married and who report themselves as married will have their answers changed to "unmarried" and their children will be considered children of single parents.

Whatever your views on same-sex marriage, statistics are a critical resource, both now and in the future. Accurate numbers can only enhance a conversation on a topic, and can aid historians and other researchers in understanding a given era. Surely, the Census Bureau could find a way to report accurate statistics on the number of married same-sex couples, while still fulfilling their legal obligations under federal laws which do not acknowledge such marriages. Perhaps a separate category on the census form could address both concerns.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dog Racing Ban Can Appear on Ballot

Yesterday, in Carney v. Attorney General, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld Attorney General Martha Coakley's decision to certify a ballot question on dog tracks in Massachusetts. The court said that although there are only a few dog tracks in Massachusetts, the question is not barred as a "local" question. "That the present economic realities of the industry might make this prospect [of additional tracks] unlikely to materialize is irrelevant; the proposed law would change the legal status of dog racing Statewide." Further, track owners "have no compensable property interest in their racing licenses." The Boston Herald reports that "if approved, the move would ban dog racing as of Jan. 1, 2010."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Senate Votes to Repeal 1913 Law

According to the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Senate has voted to repeal the 1913 law (MGL c.207, s.11-12) that prohibits out of state same-sex couples from marrying here if their marriage is prohibited by their home state. The House is expected to vote on the measure this week, and Governor Deval Patrick has promised to sign the bill repealing the law if it reaches his desk.

Friday, July 11, 2008

No Pre-Marriage Benefits for Same-Sex Couples

In Charron v. Amaral, the Supreme Judicial Court yesterday denied a pre-marriage right of consortium to a same-sex couple who would have been married had the law allowed it, and did marry when permitted to do so. This is in keeping with Massachusetts caselaw that draws a clear distinction between married and unmarried couples. The court is unwilling to recognize a "right to recover for loss of consortium by a person who has not accepted the correlative responsibilities of marriage." (Feliciano v. Rosemar Silver Company).

While recognizing that the couple in this case did not have the option of marrying, the court explained that the Goodridge decision did not say that "people in same-sex, committed relationships would be considered married before they obtained a marriage license." Also acknowledging the "discriminatory effects the marriage licensing statute had," the court maintained that to allow recovery in this case "could open numbers of cases in all areas of law to the same argument," which they were unwilling to do.

More information is available at Law About Same-Sex Marriage and Law About Unmarried Couples.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

New Child Protection Law

Yesterday, Governor Patrick signed a new law, An Act Protecting Children in the Commonwealth (H4905), which provides significant changes to child abuse and prevention law in Massachusetts. Some highlights:

  • The Department of Social Services will now be called the Department of Children and Families.
  • A new Office of the Child Advocate has been created within the Governor's Office with broad powers to investigate "critical incidents," defined as "(a) a fatality, near fatality, or serious bodily injury of a child who is in the custody of or receiving services from the executive office of health and human services or 1 of its constituent agencies; or (b) circumstances which result in a reasonable belief that the executive office of health and human services or 1 of its constituent agencies failed in its duty to protect a child and, as a result, the child was at imminent risk of, or suffered, serious bodily injury."
  • Provides criminal penalties for "harboring" a ward of the state, but provides a defense "if the defendant concealed or harbored a child in the reasonable good faith belief that the child would be at risk of physical or sexual abuse if the child returned to his custodial residence."
  • Improves college benefits for children in foster care.
  • Increases penalties for failure of mandated reporters to report abuse.
More information on the new law is available from More information on child abuse laws in Massachusetts is available at Mass. Law About Child Abuse and Neglect.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Unemployment Benefits Extended

Just days after the federal government passed a law extending unemployment benefits (Title IV of PL 110-252, Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008), "Governor Deval Patrick on Tuesday authorized Massachusetts to accept federal funds to extend unemployment benefits for up to a total of 39 weeks under a new “Extended Benefits” program," according to a press release from the Governor's Office. The extension becomes effective next week. "The Division of Unemployment Assistance will be notifying potentially eligible claimants by mail after the program begins on Monday July 7. At that time, more information and future updates about the extended benefit program will be posted on the DUA website."