Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Decide Two Important Issues: Solar Farm Zoning & the Legality of Physician-Assisted Suicide

Potential Restrictions on Municipal Zoning of Solar Farms

On March 7, 2022, the SJC heard arguments on the appeal of the City of Waltham which lost its Land Court zoning case against a large solar farm in Tracer Lane II Realty, LLC v. City of Waltham. The proposed solar farm was to be located in the adjacent town of Lexington, but the developer needed to construct an access road in a residential zone in Waltham for construction and maintenance purposes.

At issue is the interpretation of a particular provision of a Massachusetts statute, M.G.L. c.40A, known as the Dover Amendment, section 3 of which states that “no zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare”.

Waltham had denied the developer’s request to construct the necessary access road to the proposed solar farm site based on the city’s position that its zoning prohibits commercial uses in a residential zone and thus prohibits the construction of an access road that would be used for a commercial purpose. In reaching its decision, the city of Waltham failed to even look into whether the use would be adverse the public’s health, safety, or welfare, as required by the section 3 of the Dover Amendment.

Importantly, Waltham only permits solar farms in a very small portion of the city, roughly 2%. The Land Court held that Waltham’s outright prohibition of solar farms in such a large portion of the city violated section 3 of the Dover Amendment. The SJC transferred the case to itself to determine whether “allowing solar energy facilities in certain areas of a municipality but prohibiting them in other areas is permissible or whether it constitutes unreasonable regulation in contravention of the statute”.

Like Waltham, other cities and towns in the Commonwealth, including some towns in Southeastern Massachusetts, allocate only a small portion of land for solar farms. As such, the SJC’s decision on this issue may significantly impact the development (or not) of solar farms in our region.

Constitutionality of Prosecuting Physician-Assisted Suicide as Manslaughter

On March 9, 2022, the SJC also heard arguments on whether it would be unconstitutional for the government to criminally prosecute a doctor on manslaughter charges for his or her act of medically assisting a terminally-ill person in bringing about his or her death.

In the case in question, the applicant, Dr. Roger Kligler, is a retired physician who has Stage 4 prostate cancer. He and his physician, Dr. Alan Steinbach, argued that prosecuting doctors who prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to a competent terminally-ill person is unconstitutional. The Attorney General argued that such an act by a physician would constitute manslaughter under state law and that only the Legislature should control this issue. Presently, ten states permit some form of medically-assisted death.

Stay Tuned…

We look forward to keeping you posted about these cases as they wind their way through the courts. Decisions from the SJC are anticipated later this year.

In the interim, if we may assist you with any legal matters, including real estate development, permitting issues, estate planning, or otherwise, please don’t hesitate to call.

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