Court Decision Issued In CPA Sidewalk Lawsuit

A sidewalk on a tree-lined Main Street. This type of project would not be allowable with CPA funds.

Dec. 2015: Concluding a lawsuit filed against the town of Norwell, the Plymouth Superior Court ultimately ruled that it was illegal to use CPA funds to construct sidewalks. The court ruled that it was a violation of the CPA legislation to use $1.4 million in funding to complete a 2.6 mile sidewalk project and that the town must now find another funding source or cancel the sidewalk portion of the project. In addition, they also must cover the plaintiffs' court filing and service fees.

The dispute followed a Norwell Town Meeting vote in the spring of 2015. At that time, the town decided to use CPA funding to add sidewalks to a previously scheduled road construction project on Main Street. But citizens immediately filed a "10-taxpayer lawsuit" against the town, arguing that the project was not recreational in nature and therefore could not use CPA funding. The town argued that the project was not an ordinary municipal sidewalk, but a recreational "pathwalk" creating a loop that connected schools and fields. 

Both sides argued their case at Plymouth Superior Court in late 2015, and Judge Raffi Yessayan issued a final ruling on December 21st. Judge Yessayan wrote that sidewalks alongside roads are not recreational assets and therefore cannot be funded using CPA. “For all intents and purposes, the Pathwalk is a sidewalk and part of the highway; the fact that it connects to the existing Pathway is insufficient to transform its character and endow it with a true recreational purpose consistent with the legislative intent underlying the CPA,” Judge Yessayan wrote.

The full text of the ruling can be found as a .pdf under "Further Resources" below. Here is summary version of the court ruling from Plymouth Superior Court Judge Raffi Yessayan:

SUMMARY JUDGMENT for Plaintiff(s) Donald A. Mauch, Maria C. Molla, David A. DeGhetto, Albert E. Guild, Leona M. Guild, Walter E. Dixon, Margaret M. Dixon, Irene Vasquez, Penelope W. Wilson, Steven Mott, Jr., Steven B. Getto against Defendant(s) Town of Norwell,inclusive of its instrumenetalities,with statutory costs. It is ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECLARED That Judgment shall enter for the plainitffs against the defendant Town of Norwell that 1) The use of Community Preservation Act Funds for the Pathwalk project is Not permitted by the Community Preservation Act; 2) The Town of Norwell violated the CPA when it appropriated $1.4 million from the Community Preservation Fund at the Annual Town Meeting on May 5, 2015 for the purpose of the Pathwalk project; 3) The vote of the Annual Town Meeting on May 5, 2015 with respect to Article 38 is Declared null and void; 4) The Town of Norwell is Ordered to pay back to the Community Preservation Act Fund any of the monies that the Town may have used from the Article 38 appropriation; 5) The plaintiffs shall recover their statutory costs from the Town; 6) That the defendants Community Preservation Committee, Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator, Advisory Board and Annual Town Meeting be and hereby are Dismissed.

Further Resources: