Zuckerman v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Greenfield

Decision Date30 April 1985
Citation394 Mass. 663,477 N.E.2d 132
PartiesBrian A. ZUCKERMAN v. ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS OF GREENFIELD.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Marian S. Lubinsky, South Deerfield, for plaintiff.

Edward P. Smith, Town Counsel, Greenfield, for defendant.

Before HENNESSEY, C.J., and WILKINS, LIACOS, NOLAN and O'CONNOR, JJ.

HENNESSEY, Chief Justice.

In this case we are asked to interpret the requirement of G.L. c. 40A, § 15, that a zoning board of appeals file its decision "within fourteen days." A judge of the Superior Court concluded that the provision requires that the board's decision be filed within fourteen days after the decision is made, but held that the board's failure to observe the requirement does not result in a constructive grant of the relief sought. Instead, the judge entered summary judgment for the board, on the ground that the applicant for the building permit failed to appeal to the Superior Court within twenty days after the board's filing of its decision, as required by G.L. c. 40A, § 17. We transferred the case to this court on our own motion, and now affirm the judgment below.

The case was submitted to the trial judge on a "Stipulation of Agreed Facts," which is summarized as follows. On June 7, 1982, Brian A. Zuckerman (applicant), the holder of a franchise for a McDonald's restaurant in Greenfield, applied to the building inspector of Greenfield for a permit to erect a playground beside the restaurant. The equipment which would constitute the proposed playground was modeled after "McDonaldland" characters, and included an eleven foot tall "Big Mac Climber." The inspector denied the application, reasoning that the playground equipment would constitute a sign, and would thus violate certain provisions of the Greenfield zoning by-laws. On September 20, 1982, the applicant appealed to the zoning board of appeals of Greenfield (board). A public hearing was held on November 18, 1982, and, on the same evening, the board voted to overrule the building inspector, and to allow construction of the playground if certain conditions were met. On December 3, 1982, fifteen days after the board had made its decision, written copies of the decision were filed with the town clerk, and mailed to the applicant. According to the stipulation filed by the parties, the applicant "would testify" that he never received the copy addressed to him.

The applicant's attorney first learned of the board's action on December 20, 1982. Certain of the conditions imposed on the construction of the playground were unacceptable to his client. In particular, the board had decided that the playground could be erected only if it were surrounded by a six foot high wrought iron fence, as well as dense evergreen shrubbery of the same height. The applicant was willing to construct such a barrier, but he objected to the height requirement. Accordingly, he filed an appeal in the Superior Court on January 10, 1983, thirty-eight days after the decision of the board was filed. 1. G.L. c. 40A, § 15. 1

We first confront the applicant's claim that the board's failure to file its decision in the requisite period of time resulted in a constructive grant of the relief sought. General Laws c. 40A, § 15, provides that a decision of the board of appeals "shall be filed within fourteen days." The statute does not specify, however, when this fourteen-day period begins to run. See Capone v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Fitchburg, 389 Mass. 617, 622 n. 7, 451 N.E.2d 1141 (1983). The applicant contends that G.L. c. 40A, § 15, requires that the decision be filed "within fourteen days" from the time the decision is made. In this case, the decision was not filed until fifteen days after the day of the hearing when the board voted to overrule the building inspector. Thus, if we accept the applicant's interpretation of the fourteen-day requirement, the board failed to file its decision in a timely fashion. On the other hand, if the statute merely requires that the decision be filed within fourteen days of the last day of the period within which board action is required (which is within seventy-five days from the day on which the appeal is filed), then the board's actions have fulfilled the statutory timing requirements.

We need not, at this point, choose between these contrary interpretations of the statute. Instead, even if we assume, without deciding, that a decision must be filed within fourteen days after it is made, the applicant is not entitled to a constructive grant of his permit. We conclude that, at least in those circumstances where the board has filed its decision within seventy-five days after the applicant appeals, any additional requirement, to the effect that the board file its decision within fourteen days after the decision is made, would be directory only. Cf. Capone v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Fitchburg, supra at 619, 622, 451 N.E.2d 1141 (constructive relief granted where decision made fifty-seven days after appeal, but not filed until 110 days after appeal). Because the board filed its decision on the applicant's playground seventy-four days after the appeal was filed, there was no constructive grant of the relief sought. 2

General Laws c. 40A, § 15, expressly provides a remedy for the failure of a board to act "within seventy-five days" after an appeal is filed. Rinaudo v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Plymouth, 383 Mass. 885, 421 N.E.2d 439 (1981). In contrast, no remedy is specified for failure to file a decision "within fourteen days." The omission is significant. Even if the Legislature did intend to require that a decision be filed within fourteen days after it is made, we conclude that it did not intend to remedy the type of violation committed by the board in the case before us. See Vokes v. Avery W. Lovell, Inc., 18 Mass.App. 471, 478, 468 N.E.2d 271 (1984). See also School Comm. of Brockton v. Teachers' Retirement Bd., 393 Mass. 256, 263, 471 N.E.2d 61 (1984) (where the Legislature has used certain language in one section of a statute, but not in another, the language should not be implied where it is not present). Capone v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Fitchburg, supra, is not to the contrary. In Capone, we held that the applicant was entitled to a constructive grant where the board had acted within seventy-five days, but had neglected to file its decision until 110 days after the applicant had appealed. In that case, the board's failure to file its decision within fourteen days after the expiration of the seventy-five day period within which board action was permitted, created the prospect of a perpetual "cloud [on] the rights of a landowner to use his land." Id., 389 Mass., at 623, 451 N.E.2d 1141, quoting Noe v. Board of Appeals of Hingham, 13 Mass.App. 103, 111, 430 N.E.2d 853 (1982) (Dreben, J., dissenting). There is no such prospect here, where the board filed its decision within seventy-five days after the applicant appealed.

We note that this result is consistent with our interpretation of similar statutes where no remedy is specified. "As to a statute imperative in phrase, it has often been held that where it relates only to the time of performance of a duty by a public officer and does not go to the essence of the thing to be done, it is only a regulation for the orderly and convenient conduct of public business and not a condition precedent to the validity of the act done." Cheney v. Coughlin, 201 Mass. 204, 211, 87 N.E. 744 (1909). Cullen v. Building Inspector of N. Attleborough, 353 Mass. 671, 679, 234 N.E.2d 727 (1968) (interpreting predecessor to G.L. c. 40A, § 15). See also Casasanta v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Milford, 377 Mass. 67, 69-70, 384 N.E.2d 1218 (1979). At least where the decision is filed within seventy-five days after the applicant appeals, any additional requirement that a decision be filed within fourteen days after it is made does "not go to the essence of the thing to be done." Cullen v. Building Inspector of N. Attleborough, supra, 353 Mass., at 679-680, 234 N.E.2d 727 (quoting Cheney v. Coughlin, supra ). Cf. Capone v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Fitchburg, supra, 389 Mass., at 623-624, 451 N.E.2d 1141; Hashimi v. Kalil, 388 Mass. 607, 610, 446 N.E.2d 1387 (1983) (time limit on hearing involving civil commitment "goes to the essence of the public duty"). Thus we agree with the judge that the board did not constructively grant the relief sought by the applicant.

2. G.L. c. 40A, § 17. 3

We turn now to the applicant's second contention, that the judge erred in dismissing the case because the applicant failed to fulfil the requirement of G.L. c. 40A, § 17, that he file his appeal within twenty days after the board's decision was filed with the town clerk. The "Stipulation of Agreed Facts" shows that the clerk who works for the building inspector "would testify" that the decision was mailed to the applicant on December 3, 1982, the same day the decision was filed. The applicant stipulated that he "would testify" that he never received it, and that his attorney was not informed of the decision until December 20. 4 The appeal was filed on January 10, 1983. Thus the applicant did not appeal until thirty-eight days after the board's decision was filed. Nonetheless, he contends that his failure to appeal in a timely fashion should be excused on the ground that he never received the board's decision in the mail.

General Laws c. 40A, § 17, provides that an appeal must be filed within twenty days "notwithstanding any defect of procedure or of notice other than notice by publication, mailing or posting" (emphasis added). The applicant argues that his failure to receive the notice of decision mailed to him constitutes a defect of notice by mailing, and that in such cases, the statute provides him with the opportunity to...

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