Trial Report: Jury Awards Clients $3.7 Million Plus Interest as a Result of Defendants’ Multi-Year Campaign against the Construction of a Single-Family Home (Mass Civil Rights Act, Interference with Contractual Relations, Trespass)
- posted: Apr. 03, 2023
- Current Newletter,  Litigation,  Civil Rights,  Trespass,  Interference with Contract
We are very pleased to report that our trial team recently won a jury verdict worth over $7,000,000, inclusive of statutory interest, for our clients after a three-week trial in Taunton Superior Court. Under the applicable law, our clients are also entitled to reimbursement for their attorneys’ fees and expenses.
This case arose from a relentless, multi-year campaign of coercion, threats, harassment and interference orchestrated by two of their neighbors who attempted to stop our clients from building their home and peacefully enjoying their own property.
Our experienced trial team of Bob Feingold, Heather Bonnet-Hebert, and our co-counsel Brian Fielding successfully presented evidence and testimony demonstrating how the defendants’ misconduct constituted a violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (“MCRA”), Intentional Interference with Contractual Relations, and Trespass. The evidence supporting the MCRA claim established that the defendants had interfered with our clients’ constitutional right to develop and enjoy their property through threats, coercion and intimidation.
Our litigation support staff was instrumental in assisting with our case preparation and presentation of evidence at trial. There were over 100,000 pages of documents and over twenty-five transcripts to analyze, organize and easily access at trial.
The unwavering dedication, diversity of experience, and unique perspective of each member of our team was essential to obtaining this successful result for our clients, particularly in light of the extensive history of both this litigation and the underlying permitting matters that preceded it.
By way of background, in January 2011, the founder of our law firm, now senior counsel, Bob Feingold, began representing our clients against permitting challenges our clients’ construction of an oceanfront home in a gated Dartmouth community. The planned home did not need any variances, waivers or special permits. Our clients had made many attempts to accommodate their neighbors’ concerns over many months involving more than twenty meetings and countless emails. They had agreed to lower the home’s elevation, and move it away from the water another 15 feet. No one’s views were blocked and no one objected to the design of the home.
In October 2015, after more than four years of successfully defending against these neighbors’ repeated permitting challenges and appeals and after the defendants’ petitioning activities were finished, Bob filed suit against the defendants to obtain compensatory damages for our clients for the immense financial and emotional impact that the defendants’ misconduct had caused them. The permitting started in 2009 and the home was not completed until 2016. Setting aside the emotional toll of such a protracted permitting battle, by the time that our clients were finally able to complete their home, the financial toll had become immense., The defendants’ interference had increased our clients’ cost of building their home by roughly $2,000,000, despite the fact that their project was fully compliant with the law and needed no variances or special permits for completion.
After the suit commenced, our team then had to overcome years of additional obstructionist tactics to obtain documents evidencing that the defendants had planned their campaign against our clients from the outset of the project. After many hearings, we obtained evidence from defendants’ electronically stored information. As a result, our clients were able to obtain thousands of pages of additional documents, including emails and photographs that defendants had previously denied having. This was accomplished even though one of the defendants admittedly disposed of her laptop after being warned not to do so. That laptop was the repository of, among other things, additional photographs she had taken while surveilling our clients’ property. (It is nearly impossible to know what a missing computer contained). These efforts ultimately secured critical documentary evidence as to the timing and scope of defendants’ campaign against our clients. In late 2019, we obtained a key email dated October 4, 2010 in which one of the defendants bragged to her neighbor: “We are going to torture them, just you wait and see.” This email preceded the commencement of their campaign against our clients. Additional evidence established that after one of the Conservation Commission hearings, one of the defendants threatened one of our clients that unless she capitulated to defendants’ demands, she “…would delay the project endlessly, cost them a lot of money and ruin their reputation in the community.”
The evidence at trial confirmed that defendants executed that strategy relentlessly. Between 2011 and 2015, the defendants challenged our clients’ home building project before the Conservation Commission, the Board of Health, the Building Department, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Superior Court, and even through opposition directed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. Defendants’ meritless permitting challenges failed at every level.
Defendants’ campaign did not stop at permitting challenges. It also included harassment, surveillance, trespass and interference on and around our clients’ property. The evidence and testimony from several workers and the General Contractor proved that one of the defendants was taking pictures, talking to workers, and interfering with work on the project along our clients’ property line hundreds of times. Testimony from workers on the project described other incidents where a defendant blocked workers’ vehicles with his truck, interfered with their work, and at times yelled at and berated them. There was also evidence that each defendant trespassed on our clients’ property.
The defendants delayed the resolution of this case as much as possible, as evidenced by the 7 ½ years it took to get this case to trial. Over this time, many complex and compelling legal issues surfaced both before and during the trial. We prevailed against defendants’ attempts to have the case dismissed under the Anti-SLAPP statute in the Superior Court and the Appeals Court. In denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss based on the Anti-SLAPP statute, the Superior Court ruled that each of the defendants’ permitting challenges against our clients were essentially frivolous, i.e., without legal and/or factual merit. The Appeals Court ruled that there was more than ample non-petitioning activity alleged to support Plaintiffs’ case and allowed it to continue.
As with all trials, post-verdict motions are anticipated and the potential for appeals exists, but there is little that can dull the sense of justice and vindication delivered to our clients by the jury’s verdict.
While we hope that you never encounter the need for complex trial advocacy, our team of trial lawyers and support staff stand ready to assist if you do.
If you would like to speak with us about a potential case, please do not hesitate to contact us.