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How Does the Massachusetts Land Court Work?

The Massachusetts Land Court is a department of the Massachusetts Trial Court that functions as a resolution point for civil matters and disputes involving the ownership, development, and utilization of real property. Typically Land Court cases include:

  • Land title disputes about ownership, easements, and property restrictions;
  • Actions to enforce contracts to buy and sell real estate;
  • Real estate tax and mortgage foreclosures;
  • Zoning and subdivision appeals, disputes, and enforcement proceedings;
  • Partition proceedings;
  • Matters to interpret and refine conveyancing instruments
  • Cases seeking fair and declaratory relief where real estate title interests are involved

Furthermore, the Land Court hears cases to ascertain the military status of mortgagors and the foreclosure and retrieval of real estate tax liens. The court also has supervisory authority over the registered land offices in the county Registries of Deeds, and daily plays a vital role in accelerating the transfer of registered land property ownership.

Although the seven justices of the Land Court sit in Boston, the court has statewide jurisdiction. Also, the court may hold trials in other locations where circumstances require or where counsel requests. The Land Court has exclusive, original jurisdiction in the registration of title to real property and all matters and disputes on such title following the registration.

The Land Court also shares jurisdiction over other property matters with other trial court departments. It has concurrent jurisdiction over the performance of contracts concerning real estate and petitions for partitions of real estate. Following G. L. c.40A and 41, the court shares jurisdiction regarding decisions by zoning boards of appeal and local planning boards. The Land Court and the Superior Court share jurisdiction in the processing of mortgage foreclosure cases and determine the mortgagor’s military status. The court also has superintendence authority over the registered land office in each registry of deeds.

There is a separate session of the Land Court, referred to as the permit session. This session has original jurisdiction, along with the Superior Court, over specific civil actions involving land use and environmental permitting. These cases will not be accepted for filing unless accompanied by a completed Permit Session Civil Cover Sheet. The plaintiff must attest that the case is within the jurisdiction of the permit session. All permit session cases must begin by filing at the office of the Land Court Recorder at:

3 Pemberton Square,
5th Floor, Boston, MA 02018
Phone number: (617) 788–7470
TTY: (617) 788–8956
HelpLine: 833–91COURT (833–912–6878)
Fax: (617) 788–8951

The Permit Session Cover Sheet is only used for cases within the jurisdiction of the permit session, according to Chapter 205 of the Acts of 2006.

The Land Court judges are appointed by the Governor with approval from the judicial nominating commission and the Governor’s Council. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts judges do not have a fixed term. Instead, the judges may remain in office until the compulsory retirement age of 70. The judges must be under the age of 70 and must also be citizens and residents of the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition, all judges must be state bar members of good standing; and must have some years of legal experience and training.

Massachusetts judges may be removed through any of these three ways:

  • With the Governor’s Council’s approval following a joint address of both houses of the general court. With the Governor’s Council’s consent, the Governor may also retire judges because of advanced age or mental or physical disability.
  • Following a formal hearing, where the judicial nominating commission investigates complaints of judicial misconduct, the commission may recommend the removal, retirement, or reprimand of a judge to the supreme judicial court
  • Impeachment by the house of representatives and conviction by the senate

Dockets for each case decided in the Land Court are maintained by the court. These records are available online through the Trial Court’s eAccess site. Interested persons can search by case name, case type, or case docket number. These records contain basic case information, including:

  • Names of the parties (i.e., defendant and plaintiff)
  • The docket number (case number)
  • Names and contact details of lawyers representing parties
  • Dates for scheduled court events and docket entries

Land Court case decisions from July 2008 to date are available online. The Land Court Reporter series publication also includes all Land Court case decisions. It is available both at the Land Court Recorder’s Office and at many Trial Court Law Library locations.

The time a case takes in the Land Court depends on the type of case and the court’s caseload. Case Management Conferences are scheduled by the assigned judge for all cases subject to Land Court Standing Order 1–04. These cases typically take place within the first three months after the case is filed. Usually, a Notice of Case Management Conference will be sent to the plaintiff with the Notice of Judge Assignment, informing the plaintiff to serve the notice to each of the other parties.

The court determines the schedule for pretrial conferences and hearings on dispositive motions. The Land Court issues a notice with the date and time indicating when the assigned judge will hear the matter. However, trial dates are usually set at a pretrial conference organized by the assigned judge.

Non-dispositive motions are handled by the assigned judge. Motions must be marked by a written notice submitted to the court and all other parties at least seven days (10 days for mail service) before the hearing date.

The Land Courts site provides information on how cases are assigned and scheduled. The site also provides access to the contact details of all Land Court officials.

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