You are involved in a new lawsuit with your neighbor. The case has been filed in the Massachusetts Land Court. Perhaps you are a plaintiff who is asserting a claim of adverse possession against your neighbor. Alternatively, you may be a defendant in a case where the neighbor is claiming a right of way over your land. Perhaps you have obtained a variance or a special permit, and your neighbor has appealed.
Shortly after the case is filed, the judge assigned to your case will schedule a Case Management Conference. This event may occur about a month into the case. The Case Management Conference will be the first opportunity for the judge, the parties, and their counsel to meet and discuss the case. The Land Court is now holding these events by videoconference.
The Land Court will send a Case Management Conference Notice and Order to the plaintiff’s attorney. The plaintiff’s attorney is responsible for forwarding a copy of the notice and order to all other parties in the case or their attorneys.
The order requires the attorneys for the parties to confer at least two weeks before the date of the Case Management Conference for the purpose of preparing a Joint Statement, which must be filed a week prior to the Case Management Conference.
The parties are required to a file a Joint Statement which provides: 1) a brief description of the case, its issues, and the parties’ respective positions on those issues; 2) a list of parties to the case; 3) a list of related cases; 4) a joint discovery plan, which proposes a schedule for the time and length of discovery events; 5) a proposed schedule for the filing of dispositive motions; 6) a statement of the parties’ willingness to participate in mediation; 7) a statement identifying anyone not already in the case but whom any party intends to join or believes should be made a party; 8) a statement of any additional notices which any party believes should be given to interested parties; 9) a list of other matters which any party proposes for discussion at the Case Management Conference.
The Land Court strongly encourages all parties to have counsel represent them at the Case Management Conference and throughout the case. The judge assigned to your case will expect the attorneys to be very familiar with the facts and the law.
When I am representing a defendant in a Land Court case, it is likely that I will have filed an answer, affirmative defenses, and counterclaims, before the Case Management Conference. Frequently, I will file a counterclaim for declaratory judgment under G. L. c. 231A, among other counterclaims. Filing a counterclaim for declaratory judgment provides the defendant with a good opportunity to provide the court with a more detailed and more accurate statement of the facts, as compared with what the plaintiff might have alleged in the complaint. It also gives the defendant an opportunity to specifically request certain relief which the defendant may be seeking against the plaintiff.
The Case Management Conference moves quickly. It may take only fifteen minutes. The judge may invite cursory legal argument at this event, however, the Case Management Conference focuses more on procedure and laying out a path for the case as it progresses.
At the Case Management Conference, the judge will ask the parties about their willingness to participate in mediation. The judge will probably suggest that while the dispute between the parties may be contentious, a trained mediator, who may sometimes be a retired Land Court judge, can help the litigants find an elusive middle ground and settle the dispute between them. The judge can, and frequently will, order the parties to attend a mandatory screening session at which the parties will receive information about dispute resolution services.
The mediation screening session will typically occur about a month after the Case Management Conference. The Land Court has approved five different providers of alternative dispute resolution services: REBA Dispute Resolution, Inc.; MWI; Massachusetts Dispute Resolution Services; The Mediation Group; and Community Dispute Settlement Center.
At the conclusion of the Case Management Conference, the judge will typically set a deadline for counsel to report back to the court about whether the parties participated in the screening session, and whether they agreed to mediate the case. The court will also want to know whether mediation was successful in resolving the case.
About the author: Robert Nislick is a Massachusetts real estate litigation attorney and former law clerk at the Land Court. For more information, contact him at (508) 405-1238, or by e-mail.