Residents’ appeal granted in lawsuit against town for allegedly not following special town meeting mandate Eleven residents say selectmen agreed to terms beyond their discretion
By Theresa Knapp
A group of 11 residents who filed a lawsuit against the town for allegedly mishandling a town meeting directive regarding a land purchase at 364 West Street, has won an appeal with the Single Justice of the Appeals Court.
The judge’s decision, issued on April 8, 2021 and obtained by Hopedale Town News, reads in part:
• I find that the plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success in showing that, pursuant to the statutes discussed herein, the select board lacks the authority to purchase the land described in the settlement agreement without an authorization from the town at town meeting.
• I further find that a preliminary injunction pending a determination on the merits would serve the public interest in preventing the unauthorized expenditure of public funds. Consequently, the Hopedale Board of Selectmen is enjoined from issuing any bonds, making any expenditures, paying any costs, or transferring any property interests pursuant to the Settlement Agreement dated February 9, 2021, entered into with the Grafton and Upton Railroad, pending final judgement or further order of this court, or a single justice thereof, whichever is first to occur. The plain language of that statute [G.L. c. 61, § 8] would not appear to authorize the select board to acquire any less than the entirety of the real property subject to the right of first refusal. "No sale of the land shall be consummated if the terms of the sale differ in any material way from the terms of the purchase and sale agreement which accompanied the bona fide offer to purchase as described in the notice of intent to sell except as provided in this section." G. L. c. 61, § 8. Here, the significant reduction in both the acreage of land to be sold and the purchase price as set forth in the settlement agreement constitute a material change in the terms.
- To be clear, I am not deciding this case on the merits; only that the plaintiffs have demonstrate[d] some chance of success on their claim.
Attorney David E. Lurie of Lurie Friedman LLP in Boston represents the residents in Reilly, et al. v. Town of Hopedale, et al.
“We are gratified that the Court vindicated our position,” Lurie told Hopedale Town News. “It ruled that the Board of Selectmen acted illegally here, by abandoning the Town’s clear right to obtain and preserve 130 acres of forestland and allowing Railroad development on 90 of those acres, without the approval of Town Meeting.
Lurie added, “The Board should do the right thing and proceed to enforce the Town’s right to acquire all 130 acres. If it doesn’t, we will ask the Court to order that to happen.”
The decision was issued on April 8 and was not discussed by the Hopedale Board of Selectmen at its April 12 meeting. It will be a topic in executive session at a special selectmen’s meeting on April 20.
In early March, these residents filed suit against the Town of Hopedale, two selectmen, and the Grafton and Upton Railroad (including its owner, president, and an associated realty trust) related to the recent settlement agreement between the town and GURR for the purchase of land at and near 364 West Street.
In late March, Worcester Superior Court denied their Motion for Preliminary Injunction and the group filed an appeal with the Appeals Court.