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Connor v. District Attorney for Norfolk District

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk

June 12, 2017

Myles J. Connor
v.
District Attorney for the Norfolk District No. 137272

          OPINION

          Michael D. Ricciuti, Justice of the Superior Court.

         The plaintiff, Myles J. Connor (" Connor"), brought this action for declaratory relief pursuant to G.L.c. 231A against the District Attorney for the Norfolk District (" District Attorney") seeking a declaration that he is the owner of certain property (" the Property") which was seized during execution of a search warrant in 1985 and held by the District Attorney. Connor also seeks an injunction preventing the District Attoney from exercising further control over the Property.

         The District Attorney acknowledges it still possesses at least some of the Property and concedes that the Property is no longer needed for any trial. Nonetheless, the District Attorney moves for summary judgment on Connor's claims, alleging that his action should be governed by the three-year statute of limitations applicable to replevin actions and was filed too late, and, in any event, should be barred under the doctrine of laches.

         In consideration of the parties' memoranda of law and oral arguments, and for the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the statute of limitations that may be applicable in this case. Accordingly, the District Attorney's motion for summary judgment is DENIED .

         FACTS

         The following relevant facts are either undisputed or presented in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, in accordance with the dictates of Mass.R.Civ.P. 56.

         On March 8, 1985, the Quincy Police Department executed a valid search warrant at 48 Burt Street in Dorchester. As a result of the search, the police seized the Property, which included antique guns, swords, and Persian rugs. Connor was informed that the police seized the Property sometime in 1985.

         In 2000, Connor contacted the District Attorney by telephone regarding the Property, asserting a claim of ownership to it. Thereafter, an oral and written dialogue about Connor's claim to the Property ensued. During that dialogue, the District Attorney did not contend that Connor had waited too long to make his claim. Following several years of communications, on December 17, 2008, the District Attorney rejected Connor's ownership claim and request for return of the Property, asserting that he had failed to demonstrate that he was the true owner of the Property. The District Attorney did not institute any legal action regarding the Property thereafter. No others have come forward to claim ownership of the Property.

         On December 12, 2013, Connor's attorney contacted the defendant again, requesting to meet about his claim to the Property.

         Connor states that he acquired certain of the Property at issue from his grandfather, Charles Johnson, after he died. Johnson did not have a will. Connor also states that he purchased some of the Property from an antiques dealer, Timothy Steinmetz. Connor does not have any receipts for the alleged purchases from Steinmetz but provided an affidavit purportedly signed by Steinmetz in 2007 in which Steinmetz states that purchased items on behalf of Connor or had observed items in Connor's possession, all of which are generally consistent with the Property. Steinmetz died sometime after 2007, after the District Attorney was made aware of his potential knowledge of relevant facts. No effort was made by the District Attorney to interview or otherwise preserve Mr. Steinmetz's potential testimony. Connor also states that he purchased certain items of the Property in Maine but has no receipts for those alleged purchases.

         On October 1, 2014, the plaintiff filed the instant action.

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows that " there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also DuPont v. Comm'r of Correction, 448 Mass. 389, 397, 861 N.E.2d 744 (2007). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no triable issue and he is entitled to judgment. NG Bros. Constr., Inc. v. Cranney, 436 Mass. 638, 644, 766 N.E.2d 864 (2002), citing Pederson v. Time, Inc., 404 Mass. 14, 17, 532 N.E.2d 1211 (1989); Kourouvacilis v. Gen. Motors Corp., 410 Mass. 706, 716, 575 N.E.2d 734 (1991). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. Jupin v. Kask, 447 Mass. 141, 143, 849 N.E.2d 829 (2006), citing Coveney v. President & Trustees of the College of the Holy Cross, 388 Mass. 16, 17, 445 N.E.2d 136 (1983); see also Simplex Techs., Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 429 Mass. 196, 197, 706 N.E.2d 1135 (1999).

         Plaintiff's action is for declaratory relief. The purpose of the declaratory judgment statute, G.L.c. 231A, is " to remove, and to afford relief from, uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, duties, status and other legal relations." G.L.c. 231A, § 9. There is no statute of limitations applicable to declaratory actions; instead, the Court looks to the statute that applies to the underlying dispute. See, e.g., Page v. LeRoux, 43 Mass.App.Ct. 708, 711, 685 N.E.2d 1205 (1997). The statute of limitations begins when an actual controversy arises between the ...


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