Board of Selectmen of Hatfield v. Garvey

Decision Date16 January 1973
Citation362 Mass. 821,291 N.E.2d 593
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Elizabeth A. Porada, Northampton, for Bd. of Selectmen of Hatfield.


TAURO, Chief Justice.

The plaintiff, the board of selectmen of Hatfield (board), in its bill in equity seeks injunctive relief to force the defendants to remove from their property a certain structure, described by the board as a mobile home or trailer, which allegedly was not in compliance with the terms of a building permit issued by the board and in violation of the zoning by-law of the town of Hatfield. The defendants denied that the structure was a mobile home or trailer, contending that the 'building' was erected in compliance with the permit and not in violation of the town by-law.

1. The case was referred to a master who heard the parties and their witnesses and took a view. The master recited detailed subsidiary findings and reported his ultimate findings to be '(u)pon all the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom . . ..' He found that (1) the defendant's premises are in a residence A district; (2) the unit in question is a mobile home; (3) a mobile home is not a permitted use in a residence A district; and (4) the 'placement' of the unit on the defendants' premises was in violation of the local zoning by-law. The evidence is not reported.

The third and fourth 'findings' are more properly considered rulings of law (Manchester v. Phillips, 343 Mass. 591, 593--594, 180 N.E.2d 333) which the order of reference appointing the master did not empower him to make. Cook v. Scheffreen, 215 Mass. 444, 449, 102 N.E. 715. But since the master's report was confirmed as modified by the Superior Court judge, he must be presumed to have made his own rulings from the master's findings. Cook v. Scheffreen, supra, 449, 102 N.E. 715. See Corrigan v. O'Brien, 353 Mass. 341, 346, 231 N.E.2d 554; International Tel. & Tel. Corp. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 357 Mass. 282, 287, 257 N.E.2d 787.

The defendants filed two objections to the master's report. The judge, in an interlocutory decree, sustained the objections as exceptions and confirmed the master's report as so modified. A final decree was then entered dismissing the board's bill, and the board appealed from both decrees. 1

The pertinent facts as found by the master are summarized. For 'over nine years' before 1970 the defendants had operated a package store, laundromat and tavern on their premises in a wooden building. The building was L shaped with a second story extending over part of the premises, on a foundation, with wrought iron columns supporting the roof. In 1970 a fire completely destroyed the premises.

One of the defendants, James D. Garvey, filed an application with the board for a building permit in which he indicated that the purpose of the structure was to house a laundromat and a package store; that the building materials were to be aluminum, steel and wood; and that the building would be one story high on a concrete block foundation. After receiving the permit the defendants contacted a manufacturer of mobile homes to build a unit with an office, salesroom and storage space. 2 The master found that the 'usual Mobile Home consists of 5 rooms including bath.' As further distinguished from the usual mobile home, the defendants' unit has wooden doors and no windows in the back portion. It has heavier floors and more insulation. On delivery of the unit, the attached wheels and undercarriage were removed and the unit, which has no sanitary facilities, was placed on a foundation of cinder blocks.

The defendants' premises are located in a 'mostly single family residential' area although there is a nearby market and across from the defendants' premises is a 'dilapidated barn.' The property is in a residence A district which restricts use to detached one family dwellings and other uses not here pertinent. Before placing the unit on their land the defendants were warned by a member of the board not to do so because the placement of a 'mobile home' on the premises would be in violation of the zoning by-law. The defendants took the position that the structure was a modular unit and not a mobile home, and the unit was installed.

The board argues that the use of the defendants' property before the fire 'as a package store, cafe and laundromat . . . (constituted) a nonconforming use,' and that the 'said uses were carried on and conducted in a wooden frame building and not in a trailer or mobile home.' The argument continues that because the old building was totally demolished by fire, any new construction must conform to the zoning by-law, and we agree. The only violation of the by-law specifically alleged and argued is that the defendants' unit is a 'mobile home' and therefore does not conform with the by-law. 3 We restrict our decision to a consideration of this issue.

Since the defendants have not claimed, and do not appear to be entitled to, any exception to the structure requirements of their district, they, like other builders in the area, must comply with the by-law in this respect. We agree with the board's argument that it was 'the intention of the draftsmen in drafting the zoning bylaws of the town to restrict . . . (mobile homes) to a business B district.'

The portion of the by-law governing residence A districts does not include 'mobile homes' in its list of permitted uses. 'It is a 'familiar principle of interpretation that express mention of one matter excludes by implication other similar matters not mentioned. '' Foster v. Mayor of Beverly, 315 Mass. 567, 569, 53 N.E.2d 693, 694; Building Inspector of Chelmsford v. Belleville, 342 Mass. 216, 218, 172 N.E.2d 695. Since 'mobile homes' are specifically permitted in business B districts, it would seem that the exclusion of these structures from residence A districts did not occur through oversight. Foster v. Mayor of Beverly, supra, at 570, 53 N.E.2d 693. We conclude, therefore, that the defendants are not permitted to replace their old building with a 'mobile home.' It is thus crucial to the case whether the defendants' unit is properly described as a 'mobile home.'

The defendants excepted to the master's finding that the unit was a mobile home because such a finding was 'inconsistent with the description of the unit by the Master as a building ordered and erected for business purposes' and because such a finding conflicted with the definition of a mobile home as outlined in G.L. c. 140, § 32L. 4 The trial judge sustained this exception 'as to the ultimate finding that the unit placed on the premises is a mobile home.' 5

Where the evidence is not reported both the trial judge and the appellate justices are required to treat the master's findings of fact as binding unless they are mutually inconsistent, contradictory, plainly wrong or vitiated in view of the controlling law. Sturtevant v. Ford, 280 Mass. 303, 308, 182 N.E. 560; Smith v. Knapp, 297 Mass. 466, 469, 9 N.E.2d 399; Boxborough v. Joatham Spring Realty Trust, 356 Mass. 487, 489, 253 N.E.2d 335; Gil-Bern Constr. Corp. v. Medford, 357 Mass. 620, 623, 260 N.E.2d 160. Thus we must decide whether the trial judge was justified in modifying the master's report by sustaining the defendants' exceptions.

The defendants objected that the master must use the phrase 'mobile home' as it is defined in G.L. c. 140, § 32L. In Manchester v. Phillips, 343 Mass. 591, 593, [362 Mass. 826] n. 3, 180 N.E.2d 333, we stated that G.L. c. 140, § 32L, related 'only vaguely, if at all, to . . . (the interpretation of a zoning by-law. The statute's) concern is with matters other than zoning.' See also Ellis v. Assessors of Acushnet, 358 Mass. 473, 474, 265 N.E.2d 491. We believe that the definition of a 'mobile home' under G.L. c. 140, § 32L, 6 primarily relates to licensing and regulating mobile home parks as outlined in § 32A through § 32K and is not controlling in the interpretation of municipal zoning by-laws.

The board argues that the master's use of the phrase 'mobile home' must be controlled by its use in the portion of the by-law regulating business B districts. Generally,...

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