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The McLean Hospital Corp. v. Town of Lincoln & others

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

September 23, 2019

THE McLEAN HOSPITAL CORPORATION
v.
TOWN OF LINCOLN & others. [1]

          Heard: April 2, 2019.

          Civil action commenced in the Land Court Department on November 15, 2016. The case was heard by Karyn F. Scheier, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Diane C. Tillotson (M. Patrick Moore, Jr., also present) for the plaintiff.

          Jason R. Talerman for town of Lincoln & others. Michael C. Fee, for Arthur Anthony & others, was present but did not argue.

          Benjamin Fierro, III, for Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Felicia H. Ellsworth & Julia Prochazka, for Disability Law Center & another, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          LENK, J.

         The question before us is whether the plaintiff's proposed residential program for adolescent males falls within the meaning of the Dover Amendment, G. L. c. 40A, § 3, second par. If so, it is exempt from certain zoning restrictions because the land and buildings would be used for "educational purposes." The plaintiff, The McLean Hospital Corporation (McLean), purchased 5.5 acres of land in the town of Lincoln (town), intending to develop a residential life skills program for fifteen to twenty-one year old males who exhibit extreme "emotional dysregulation." The program would allow these adolescents to develop the emotional and social skills necessary to return to their communities to lead useful, productive lives.

         Before purchasing the property, McLean, a nonprofit institution, wrote to the town's building commissioner explaining the proposed use, and seeking a determination whether the project could proceed as of right, pursuant to the Dover Amendment, see G. L. c. 40A, § 3, second par., and its local analog, section 6.1(i) of the town's bylaw. The building commissioner replied in writing that the proposed use was educational, and that McLean could proceed under the Dover Amendment and the bylaw. After the purchase, however, a number of nearby residents challenged the decision before the town's zoning board of appeals (board). The board decided that the program was medical or therapeutic, as opposed to educational, and reversed the building commissioner's determination. McLean initiated an action in the Land Court challenging the board's decision. After a four-day trial, a Land Court judge determined that the proposed use was not primarily "for educational purposes, " under a novel theory that attempted to distinguish between life skills that are "focused outward" and those that "look inward." McLean appealed, and we allowed McLean's petition for direct appellate review.

         We conclude that, although not a conventional educational curriculum offered to high school or college students, the proposed facility and its skills-based curriculum fall well within the "broad and comprehensive" meaning of "educational purposes" under the Dover Amendment. See Regis College v. Weston, 462 Mass. 280, 286, 291 (2012). Accordingly, the decision of the Land Court judge must be vacated, and the matter remanded for entry of a judgment in favor of McLean.[2]

         1. Background.

         We recite the essentially undisputed facts found by the trial judge, supplemented occasionally with uncontroverted facts in the record. See Vaiarella v. Hanover Ins. Co., 409 Mass. 523, 524 (1991).

         a. Other programs.

         The plaintiff currently operates a smaller version of the planned program, known as the "3East program, " at its campus in Belmont, as well as a similar program for girls. McLean also operates a program for adults with emotional disorders, who are transitioning back into the community from a hospital setting, at another location in the town; that facility is a protected educational facility under the Dover Amendment, G. L. c. 40A, § 3, second par. McLean wants to move the 3East program from its already cramped quarters in Belmont to the newly purchased land in Lincoln so that it can increase the number of adolescents that the program serves, from six to twelve at any given time.

         b. 3East program.

         The 3East program's curriculum is designed to instill fundamental life, social, and emotional skills in adolescent males who are deficient in these skills, who experience severe emotional dysregulation, and who have been unable to succeed in a traditional academic setting. Many of the residents have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder; all have varying degrees of emotional dysregulation. Some have a ...


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