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Delucia v. Kfoury

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Bristol

April 25, 2018

ANTHONY DeLUCIA
v.
ROBERT G. KFOURY, trustee.

          Heard: February 5, 2018. [1]

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October 17, 2016. A special motion to dismiss was heard by Renee P. Dupuis, J.

          Bruce A. Assad (Robert M. Novack also present) for the defendant.

          Robert E. McLaughlin, Jr., for the plaintiff.

          Present: Green, C.J., Henry, & Singh, JJ.

          GREEN, C.J.

         In 2002, the Legislature rewrote G. L. c. 184, § 15, the so-called "lis pendens statute." See St. 2002, c. 496, § 2. Among other changes, the amended statute provided a procedural mechanism for a party aggrieved by approval of a memorandum of lis pendens to file a special motion to dismiss the action giving rise to the lis pendens if the action is frivolous. See G. L. c. 184, § 15(c); Galipault v. Wash Rock Investments, LLC, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 73, 81-82 (2005). In turn, under G. L. c. 184, § 15(d), "[a]ny party aggrieved by a ruling under [§ 15](c) or by the denial of an ex parte motion for a lis pendens, may appeal pursuant to the first or second paragraphs of section 118 of chapter 231." The present case illustrates a trap for the unwary lurking in the interplay between the two statutes, operating in conjunction with the rules governing the practice of the single justice of this court. The defendant in the present case sought, by special motion, to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint, and then (after denial of his special motion) sought review of that denial by a single justice of this court by filing a petition under the first paragraph of G. L. c. 231, § 118. Upon denial of relief (because the single justice is without authority to dismiss a complaint), the defendant filed in the Superior Court a notice of appeal pursuant to the second paragraph of § 118. Because more than thirty days had passed since the underlying order denying his special motion to dismiss, the defendant first requested, and obtained, an order from a judge of the Superior Court for an enlargement of time to file the notice of appeal. Unfortunately for the defendant, however, the Superior Court judge was without authority to enlarge the time for appeal, and his order purporting to do so was a nullity. We are thus constrained to dismiss the appeal, as we are without jurisdiction to entertain it.

         Background.

         By complaint filed in the Superior Court, the plaintiff asserted claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and specific performance, arising out of a joint venture between the plaintiff and the defendant for development of property in Fall River owned by the defendant.[2] The plaintiff also filed an ex-parte motion for a memorandum of lis pendens, which the judge allowed. The defendant moved to dissolve the memorandum of lis pendens and filed a special motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant G. L. c. 184, § 15(c) . On January 31, 2017, the judge denied the defendant's motions. By petition filed on March 1, 2017, within the thirty-day period prescribed by G. L. c. 231, § 118, first par., the defendant then sought interlocutory relief before a single justice of this court. On March 2, 2017, that petition was denied, by reason of a lack of authority by the single justice to grant the requested relief, and the case was closed.[3] See Mass.R.A.P. 15(c), 365 Mass. 859 (1974) ("a single justice may not dismiss or otherwise determine an appeal or other proceeding").

         On March 22, 2017, the defendant filed a motion for reconsideration by the single justice, in which he asked the single justice to refer the case to a full panel of this court for consideration. On March 24, 2017, before any action had been taken on the motion for reconsideration, the defendant filed in the Superior Court a motion for an enlargement of time to file a notice of appeal to a panel of the Appeals Court. A judge of the Superior Court allowed the defendant's motion for enlargement and, on March 30, 2017, the docket of the single justice matter recorded an entry observing that "[a] review of the trial court docket shows that the petitioner's motion to file a late notice of appeal to a panel of the Appeals Court was allowed; accordingly, no action is necessary." On April 4, 2017, the defendant filed in the Superior Court a notice of appeal under G. L. c. 231, § 118, second par. At oral argument, we raised the question of timeliness of the defendant's appeal, and invited the parties to submit supplemental memoranda addressing the question.

         Discussion.

         As the single justice correctly observed, he was without authority to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint, by virtue of the provisions of Mass.R.A.P. 15(c) . See also Pemberton v. Pemberton, 9 Mass.App.Ct. 809, 809 (1980) ("[The] power to render any judgment and to make any order that ought to have been made open the whole case . . . rest[s] solely with a panel of [t]hree justices who constitute a quorum to decide all matters required to be heard by the appeals court") (internal quotation marks omitted).

         We are unpersuaded by the defendant's contention that G. L. c. 184, § 15(d), should be construed to override the limitation on the authority of the single justice, in order to give effect to a legislative intent to provide an avenue for an "expedited dissolution of an unjustified memorandum of lis pendens." Galipault v. Wash Rock Investments, LLC, supra at 74. As a threshold matter, the limitation on the authority of the single justice imposed by Mass.R.A.P. 15(c) does not render the right of appeal from a ruling under G. L. c. 184, § 15(c), either illusory or a nullity; the single justice is empowered to grant relief from any order allowing a special motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to the statute.[4] The defendant is also incorrect in his assertion that the Legislature must have intended to allow the single justice to reverse an order denying a special motion to dismiss, in order to avoid the longer time period ordinarily required to pursue a panel appeal; nothing in G. L. c. 184, § 15, says explicitly, or otherwise suggests, that an order of the single justice directing dismissal of a complaint shall be final, or could not thereafter be appealed to the full court.

         Having determined that the single justice correctly determined that he was without authority to dismiss the complaint, we turn to the question of the timeliness of the present appeal. General Laws c. 231, § 118, second par., as amended through St. 1987, c. 208, § 2, prescribes a thirty-day appeal period.[5] The defendant's notice of appeal from the order denying his special motion to dismiss and dissolution of a lis pendens was filed over a month after the thirty-day appeal period had expired. The appeal period, set by statute, cannot be enlarged.[6] See Morales v. Appeals Court, 427 Mass. 1009, 1010 (1998), quoting from Friedman v. Board of Registration in Medicine, 414 Mass. 663, 665 (1993) ("[A] statutory appeal period . . . cannot be overridden by a contrary rule of court when the manner and time for effective filing of an appeal are delineated in the statute"). See also, Manousos v. Sarkis, 382 Mass. 317, 322 (1981); McGrath v. McGrath, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 670, 671 (2006); Ben v. Schultz, 47 Mass.App.Ct. 808, 814-815 (1999). A timely notice of appeal is a jurisdictional prerequisite to our authority to consider ...


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