Calendar year 2007 marked the first full year of operation of the “Permit Session” of the Land Court, created by Chapter 205 of the Acts of 2006. Cases in the Permit Session must involve major commercial or residential development projects, and the Permit Session is vested with jurisdiction broader than the Land Court’s, to hear all types of appeals from permitting and land use decisions of local boards and administrative agencies, including those of the Housing Appeals Committee, the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA) and the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals.
During 2007, half of the two dozen Permit Session cases filed were cases transferred from the Superior Court Department with approval from the chief justice for administration and management. Each of the cases filed in the Permit Session was assigned to an individual Land Court judge, as are all cases filed with the court. The implementation of an individual calendar system in fiscal year 2006 continues to facilitate smooth case management and efficiencies that have been appreciated by both the Land Court bench and the bar.
In addition to creating the Permit Session, Chapter 205 created a seventh judicial position in the court, which was filled at the end of calendar year 2006. Chapter 205 also mandates, for the first time, that the Land Court hold quarterly sessions in both Worcester and Fall River. In accordance with the statute, the court held numerous general motion and tax foreclosure sessions in these locations throughout the year, in addition to holding trials in all counties, as necessary. The Land Court was the first Trial Court department to implement MassCourts, and the ability to access MassCourts and our dockets from courthouses throughout the commonwealth has facilitated our sittings outside of Boston.
The statistics for fiscal year 2007 show a 56 percent increase in filings, reaching an all time high of almost 28,000 cases. While there has been an increase in all case types, the largest increase in filings was seen in servicemember cases, seeking a judgment that the defendants are not entitled to the benefits of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. These cases represent the first filing required prior to proceeding with mortgage foreclosure. The filings in the Land Court mirrored the headlines, locally and nationally, concerning the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Staffing to levels adequate to handle the increased foreclosure practice continues to present a challenge to the court.