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Reichenbach v. Haydock

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Bristol

December 21, 2017

MARGARET J. REICHENBACH & another[1]
v.
TIMOTHY G. HAYDOCK & another.[2]

          Heard: September 6, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October 1, 2015.

         A special motion to dismiss was considered by Robert J. Kane, J., and a motion for reconsideration was considered by him.

          Daniel C. Perry for the defendants.

          Robert B. Feingold (Heidi A. Nadel also present) for the plaintiffs.

          Present: Wolohojian, Agnes, & Wendlandt, JJ.

          WOLOHOJIAN, J.

         In 2008, the plaintiffs bought an oceanfront property with the plan to demolish the existing house and build a new residence. Two of the neighbors (the defendants, Timothy Haydock and Barbara Moss) vigorously objected and are alleged to have for years employed a variety of means -- some petitioning activity within the meaning of the "anti-SLAPP" statute, G. L. c. 231, § 59H, some not -- designed to block the project. This suit arises out of that campaign, which the plaintiffs allege deprived them of their constitutional right to enjoy their property in violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, G. L. c. 12, §§ 11H and 111 (the MCRA) .[3]

         We are not here concerned with the merits of that claim. Instead, we deal in this interlocutory appeal[4] only with the denial of the defendants' special motion to dismiss pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute. That motion was decided before Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hosp., Inc., 477 Mass. 141 (2017), which was not handed down until after this appeal was already pending. Despite the timing, Blanchard applies, [5] and applying its approach to the first prong of the Duracraft framework, see Duracraft Corp. v. Holmes Prods. Corp., 427 Mass. 156, 167-168 (1998), we affirm.

         Background.[6]

         All of the real estate involved in this case was once owned by Clara Frothingham in the Nonquitt area of South Dartmouth, located on the shores of Buzzards Bay. In 1979, the Frothingham land was subdivided into eight lots, which were conveyed to members of Frothingham's family. Defendant Timothy Haydock (whom we are given to understand is part of the Frothingham family) acquired one of those lots in 1991 (the Haydock lot); he also has a one-sixth interest in another family lot nearby (the Haydock family lot). Defendant Barbara Moss, Haydock's long-term companion, lives with him on the Haydock lot.

         The waterfront lot at issue here (the Reichenbach lot) was purchased by the Reichenbachs in 2008 from the trustee of the Frothingham Family Holding Trust.[7] The Reichenbach lot is adjacent to the family lot in which Haydock has an interest and is also near (but not adjacent to) the lot where Haydock and Moss live.[8] When the Reichenbach lot was owned by a member of the Frothingham family, Haydock and Moss had permission to use its tennis court and its stairway to the beach, leading Haydock to "regard[ the property] as part of his 'family compound, ' and part of his backyard." These accommodations stopped when the Reichenbachs purchased the property.

         Although the Reichenbachs' plan to demolish the existing house and build a new summer home implicated the State's Wetlands Protection Act and the town of Dartmouth wetlands protection by-law, and required one or more building permits, there is no indication in the record on appeal that the defendants ever asserted that the Reichenbachs were required to obtain either a special permit or a variance under the Dartmouth zoning by-laws. Haydock and Moss opposed the project and, over several years, repeatedly exercised their right to petition to various State and local officials in a continuing (and continuous) effort to block the Reichenbachs' plans. Their extensive (and ultimately unsuccessful) petitioning efforts are set out in the margin.[9] The Reichenbachs claim that none of the defendants' petitioning activities was meritorious ab initio --a point that Moss and Haydock vigorously dispute. In any event, none achieved the desired aim of blocking the project.

         At the same time, Haydock and Moss also allegedly waged their campaign on different -- nonpetitioning -- fronts, including obstruction, interference, and dissuasion. These efforts were ongoing and serious, and we set them out in the margin only to streamline this recitation and not to diminish their significance.[10] In the end, the defendants' campaign was unsuccessful. ...


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