A silver lining to finding oneself involved in a property dispute is the opportunity to resolve the issue in one of the Commonwealth’s specialized courts, the Massachusetts Land Court. The types of legal disputes that Land Court judges decide vary in type and scope, but they all touch upon real property. The Land Court’s docket contains cases involving foreclosures, challenges to subdivision plans, and boundary disputes, among others. Pursuant to General Laws Chapter 185, the Land Court has exclusive jurisdiction over some issues and concurrent jurisdiction over others.
The Land Court’s exclusive jurisdiction includes cases involving registration of title, the discharge of mortgages, and challenges to property restrictions. Chapter 185 requires these matters to be brought before the Land Court. Failure to do so can result in the case being dismissed or transferred. The Land Court’s concurrent jurisdiction over other issues presents a strategic choice for potential plaintiffs and their counsel about where to file a case. For example, a petition for partition can be brought in the Probate and Family Court or the Land Court, and a complaint for a breach of a purchase and sale agreement could be filed in either the Land Court or the Superior Court.
The foremost benefit of litigating a case in the Land Court is the opportunity to appear before judges and clerks with specialized knowledge of real property law. The Land Court has just seven authorized judicial positions, but the individuals appointed to the Land Court typically have experience litigating land disputes as attorneys, and further experience adjudicating those disputes from the bench. Furthermore, the staff at the Land Court consists of not only of judges and clerks, but also engineers, title examiners, and other experts. Another benefit of the Land Court is its single justice assignment system. This means that parties appear before the same judge for all hearings from start to finish–including trial. This assignment system contributes to the Land Court’s efficiency, just like the Court’s practice of staggering hearing times throughout the day. These practices are outlined in the Land Court special procedural rules, which all parties practicing in the Land Court should be familiar with. Attorneys at Fitch Law Partners LLP have extensive experience litigating land use cases in the Land Court and can help you decide if, how, and importantly–where–to litigate a real property dispute in the Commonwealth.