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General Laws

Section 3A. There shall be established a separate session of the land court department, which shall be known as the permit session of the land court department.

Sessions of the permit session shall be held in Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Worcester and Hampden counties, and other counties as the chief justice of the land court department shall from time to time designate.

The permit session shall have original jurisdiction, concurrently with the superior court department, over civil actions in whole or part: (a) based on or arising out of the appeal of any municipal, regional or state permit, order, certificate or approval, or the denial thereof, concerning the use or development of real property, including without limitation appeals of such permits, orders, certificates or approvals, or denials thereof, arising under or based on or relating to chapter 21, sections 61 to 62H, inclusive, of chapter 30, chapters 30A, 40A to 40C, inclusive, 40R, 41, 43D, 91, 131, 131A, or sections 4 and 5 of chapter 249, or chapter 665 of the acts of 1956; or any local bylaw or ordinance; (b) seeking equitable or declaratory relief (i) designed to secure or protect the issuance of any municipal, regional or state permit or approval concerning the use or development of real property or (ii) challenging the interpretation or application of any municipal, regional or state rules, regulations, statutes, laws, bylaws, ordinances concerning any permit or approval; (c) claims under section 6F of chapter 231, or for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional or negligent interference with advantageous relations or intentional or negligent interference with contractual relations arising out of or based upon or relating to the appeal of any municipal, regional, state permit or approval concerning the use or development of real property; and (d) any other claims between persons holding any right, title or interest in land and any municipal, regional or state board, authority, commission or public official based on or arising out of any action taken with respect to any permit or approval concerning the use or development of real property but in all such cases of claims (a) to (d), inclusive, only if the underlying project or development involves either 25 or more dwelling units or the construction or alteration of 25,000 square feet or more of gross floor area or both.

Notwithstanding any other general or special law to the contrary, any action not commenced in the permit session, but within the jurisdiction of the permit session as provided in this section, may be transferred to the permit session, upon motion by any party to the chief justice of the trial court. There shall be a presumption against more than one transfer of a case between any departments of the trial court. If a party to an action commenced in or transferred to the permit session claims a valid right to a jury trial. Then the action shall be transferred to the superior court for a jury trial.

Each case filed in the permit session shall be assigned to a single judge from the commencement to the conclusion of the case. The judge assigned to the case will hold all hearings and preside at the trial, except in the case of death, disability, expiration of judicial appointment to the permit session or emergency.

At the time of filing, all cases in the permit session shall be assigned to 1 of the following tracks: 12 months to trial, Average or “A” Track; 9 months to trial, Fast or “F” Track; or 6 months to trial, Accelerated or “X” Track. Particular classes of cases shall be assigned to each of these tracks in accordance with rules established by the chief justice of the land court department. On motion by a party or the court’s own motion, where an exceptional cause is shown, cases may be reassigned to a different track or tracking order dates may be extended or modified.

The chief justice of the land court shall report to the chief justice of the trial court, the clerks of the house and senate, and the chairs of the judiciary committee of the general court on an annual basis, with: (1) the number of cases handled under this session; (2) the timelines achieved in cases pursuant to this session; (3) any additional resources required by the land court to meet its goals for this session; and (4) the number of cases before the land court according to the county from which they originate. To the extent that the chief justice of the land court does not have sufficient resources to maintain the timeframes mentioned above, then the chief justice of the trial court shall assign judges with land use and environmental expertise from other departments of the trial court to sit as justices of the permit session. In making such appointments, the chief justice of the trial court shall make reasonable efforts to select justices who, by reason of their past experience in private practice or practice with public agencies or as jurists have particular skills related to environmental and land use permitting and disputes concerning the same.

The final disposition of cases in the permit session by the court by dismissal, judgment or otherwise shall be in accordance with the following timeframes which shall commence on the filing of the trial transcript with the court or in the case of a summary judgment motion, from the date the motion is taken under advisement: A Track in 4 months, F Track in 3 months and X Track in 2 months.

The chief justice of the land court department shall establish a procedure for the assignment to mediation of disputes that have been filed with or transferred to the permit session, and shall promulgate rules, subject to the approval of the chief justice of the trial court, that promote the expeditious resolution of the disputes within the time periods provided in this chapter. The mediators shall be persons who by reason of their past experience in private practice or practice with public agencies, or as jurists have particular skills related to environmental and land use permitting and/or disputes concerning the same. The chief justice of the land court department may approve qualified providers of mediation services. The mediator shall have the protections provided under section 23C of chapter 233, and to the extent that public agencies are participants in the mediation, their deliberations shall not be subject to the provisions of section 23B of chapter 39.

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