Haverhill Stem LLC v. Jennings

Recently the Massachusetts SJC heard a case concerning Anti-SLAPP statutes and where the lines lay against the right to petition in Haverhill Stem LLC v. Jennings. 

 Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) statutes allow defendants in a case to file a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the communication in question is an exercise of the defendant’s right to petition.

In Jennings, the plaintiffs, Caroline Pineau and Haverhill Stem LLC (“Pineau”), were attempting to open and operate a marijuana dispensary in Haverhill. The process of preparing to set up the dispensary began in 2018. At that time, Haverhill’s local ordinances forbid the operation of marijuana dispensaries in the downtown area, where the plaintiff’s business was intended to open. While laying the groundwork for the eventual opening of the dispensary, plaintiff Pineau’s family purchased the property next to the business owned by the defendants, Brad Brooks and Lloyd Jennings (“Jennings”).

While the plaintiffs attempted to get the necessary changes to the local ordinances to operate their dispensary, they were approached by Jennings who sought $30,000 from Pineau. Jennings had previously paid $30,000 to the prior owner of Pineau’s property to erect a deck on his own property that crossed the property boundary, and evidently wanted to extract his money back from the property/the property’s owners. If Jennings was not paid, Pineau was promised that he “would fight whatever Pineau proposes for use of the building.”

After this initial demand, there were several more meetings between Jennings and Pineau where Pineau described Jennings’s subsequent demands for payment as “threats” or “coercion.”

In early 2019 Haverhill allowed for marijuana dispensaries to operate in the town. Over the course of the following months, Jennings made remarks that Pineau “doesn’t know who she is dealing with” and that she would “see how Haverhill works.” At a meeting between the parties in April 2019, Jennings threatened Pineau’s husband that he would bring a RICO suit against Pineau and was “prepared to try and destroy the Pineaus and their business before it got off the ground.” Jennings further stated that he “was prepared to take everything from the Pineaus, including their house.”

In May, Jennings filed a suit in the Land Court in an effort to invalidate the marijuana zoning bylaw. In June, Pineau brought a complaint against Jennings alleging, among other things, violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and defamation. Jennings moved to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP statute, claiming that Jennings’s speech was protected by the right to petition the government. The defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss was denied, which defendants’ appealed. 

The court based its analysis of the defendants’ anti-SLAPP claims primarily on Blanchard v. Steward Carney Hosp., Inc., 483 Mass. 200 (2019) (Blanchard II); and Blanchard I, 477 Mass. 141. In Blanchard I the defendants in that case, a hospital and hospital officials, made a series of allegedly defamatory statements about the plaintiffs, nurses at a local hospital. One set of statements had been made to the Boston Globe newspaper. Those statements were determined to be protected by the right to petition under the anti-SLAPP legislation because, while the statements were not made to a government official/agency, the statements were made for the purpose of influencing a public agency. The distinguishing fact about the statements made were that they were “in connection with” an issue that was before a public agency. That connection allowed the defendants to potentially dismiss the claims.

Using the reasoning of Blanchard I, the court first established that Pineau’s claims did not derive solely from protected petitioning activity, but rather the claims were based on the coercive practices Jennings employed to try to get money from Pineau. Having survived the initial question of an anti-SLAPP motion- re: whether the activity at issue was solely one of petitioning- the court went on to examine the actual content of Jennings’s statements. Finding that the statements about destroying Pineau economically and otherwise threatening Pineau unless they were paid was the true basis of the redress sought, the court ruled that Pineau’s claims must survive an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss.

The court conceded that, while some of the defendants’ actions were protected petitioning, and that the general type of conduct they were engaged in was not inherently objectionable- a person may lodge their objections to change of laws, use impassioned- even “fighting” language to convey a point, or try to resolve an issue by making claims for compensation- a motion to dismiss under an anti-SLAPP statute must be based on the fact that a claim against the defendant is solely about protected petitioning activity. 

Having established that the claim against Jennings was not solely about their protected petitioning activity, the court ultimately affirmed the denial of Jennings’s motion to dismiss.

Meet the E-Board: Notes Editor

Joey Spadoni is a rising 3L at the University of Massachusetts School of Law and feels so fortunate to be able to serve the school as the Notes Editor for the 2021-2022 academic year. Joey is passionate about writing, having worked in communications before attending law school, and enjoys both legal and creative writing endeavors. He completed an independent legal research project during the spring 2021 semester and has honed his legal research and writing skills during two legal internships over the past summers. In addition to his Notes Editor responsibilities, Joey will serve as the teaching assistant for the Law Review Note Writing course and is excited to work with the rising associate editors on their legal notes. Joey worked as a Contract law teaching assistant during the 2020-2021 academic year and served as an Academic Fellow during the fall semester of 2020. When he is not at law school, Joey enjoys photography
and outdoor activities.

Meet the E-Board: Tech Editor

William Jennings is a rising 3L at UMass Law, and is the current Tech Editor of the Umass Law Review. Before going to law school, William attended UMass Amherst for his undergraduate education, studying political science. Between college and law school, William also worked for several years as a legal researcher and contracts administrator.

William has an interest in tax law, and recently served as an intern with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the experience he gained in that internship serving as the basis for his thesis paper “Point of Steal: The Burden of Proof in Tax Fraud Cases and Point of Sale Systems.” As a member of the law review e-board, it is William’s job to maintain and manage the law review’s website and social media presence.

Meet the Law Review

Matthew R. Stevens: Staff Editor

Matthew R. Stevens ’21 is a 3L student and Staff Editor of the UMass Law Review. Matthew grew up in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and completed his BA in History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Throughout his time in highschool, college, and part of law school, Matthew worked in the retail industry for 8 years. During his time at law school, Matthew shifted to the legal field where he served as a law clerk at Lang, Xifaras & Bullard for 3 years, as well as being a Torts Teaching Assistant for Professor Cleary. Matthew is a recipient of both the Commonwealth Fellows Scholarship and the Hoff Law Scholarship.

Matthew used his education in history and law to write about the developing legal systems of England and the Holy Roman Empire and their effect on witch-hunting intensity in early modern Europe, and how principles from this period can be applied to concepts like federalism and centralism in the United States. You can read more about Matthew’s work here. Matthew deeply enjoys any type of scholarship, and hopes to continue writing and return to the world of academia down the road by becoming a law professor.

Meet the Law Review

Thomas Brennan: Lead Editor

Thomas Brennan ’21 is a full-time day student and Lead Editor for the UMass Law Review. Tom was born and raised in a small town in Northeast Connecticut before attending Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 2011 to 2015. Tom graduated with a BA in Criminal Justice and a minor in Arabic. After graduation, Tom returned to his home town of Pomfret and worked for three years as a Clerk at the Superior Court in Danielson, Connecticut. In 2018, Tom decided to attend law school, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, and brother. 
Tom currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wonderful Fiancé. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends. After graduation, Tom plans on working in private practice in Eastern Connecticut with his father and brother.  Tom’s research and writing for UMass Law Review focused on the ethical and legal issues regarding the hidden and persuasive techniques employed by social media companies to increase user engagement. 

Congratulations to the 2021-2022 UMass Law Review Editorial Board!

These are the UMass Law Students who will lead next year’s Law Review Publication.

Editor-in-Chief…………………………………………………………………………..Kevin King

Managing Editors………………………………….Angela Flanagan & Lillie Goldman

Articles Editor…………………………………………………………….Abigaelle Ngamboma

Business Editor………………………………………………………………….Alyssa M. Petroff

Notes Editor……………………………………………………………………………..Joey Spadoni

Technology Editor………………………………………………………..William R. Jennings

Member Articles

Spencer K. Schneider, UMass Law Review’s Technology Editor recently had his article published in the National Lawyers Guild Review. Check out his abstract below and click here to read the full article!

THE WHEELS ON THE BUS: THE STATUTORY SCHEMES THAT TURN TRAFFIC TICKETS INTO FINANCIAL CRISES

Forty-three states have, or previously had, some version of a driver’s license suspension program. These programs are shown to have disastrous financial effects on the lives of those who cannot afford the fines inherent in them. Challenges to such license suspension schemes have been brought throughout the United States but have been largely unsuccessful. Where relief ultimately may be found is in state legislatures or city governments. When those bodies discover that, although these programs are in fact valid and constitutional, many of them have such detrimental and long-term impacts on so many citizens, they ultimately result in more harm than good. This realization has led many states to experiment with changes to, or repeals of, their driver’s license suspension programs with varying success. However, many states still rely on the fines levied by these programs and there is a legitimate argument that the programs are imposed to keep dangerous drivers off the street. Ultimately, this is an issue that arose from legislation and, despite finding its way into the court system, must be solved with legislation.