JPNC lawsuit unclear about who is suing

January 4, 2013
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Who exactly is doing the suing is unclear in the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s recent lawsuit against the zoning approval for the 161 S. Huntington Ave. project.

The lawsuit was filed by JPNC chair Benjamin Day “in his representative capacity, as chairperson of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council.” While a quorum of JPNC members voted to approve the lawsuit, it is unclear whether the other members are officially plaintiffs in the case. JPNC member and attorney Jeffrey Wiesner repeatedly declined to explain the status of the other council members and would not give a reason for not explaining.

“I’m not going to go further than that,” Wiesner said, after citing the “representative capacity” line in the lawsuit. “I’m sure [some] people would have a different opinion” about the question of who is suing, he added.

When the Gazette noted that it is important for the public to understand exactly who is actually suing the City and the developer, Wiesner would only say, “I understand your frustration about that…I understand that you don’t understand.”

Wiesner did point the Gazette to Rule 23 of Massachusetts Civil Procedure, the rules that govern how court cases are filed and conducted. That section covers class-action lawsuits. The Gazette was unable to get comment from legal experts. But from the rule’s language, it appears that the lawsuit could be a class action, where Day is the only actual plaintiff. In that situation, Day could be representing the interests of the other JPNC members and the council as a whole, but they would not be actual parties in the case.

JPNC secretary Michael Reiskind previously declined to answer various questions about the lawsuit, including whether he and other members are plaintiffs, and referred the questions to Wiesner.

Wiesner works as an attorney at the downtown firm Stern Shapiro Weissberg & Garin. An expert in criminal and civil litigation, he has handled several high-profile cases, including representing famed artist Shepard Fairey, the creator of the Barack Obama “Hope” poster, on vandalism charges.

The JPNC lawsuit is appealing a Nov. 13 City Zoning Board of Appeal approval of a high-end apartment project planned for 161 S. Huntington Ave., the current site of the Home for Little Wanderers complex. The suit claims that the ZBA wrongly approved the project despite the developer, Boston Residential Group, failing to provide legally required evidence that it would suffer serious “hardship” or “difficulty” without the variances. The suit asks a judge to throw out the approval and to pay Day’s court costs. The lawsuit complaint can be viewed at scribd.com/doc/118152004/JPNC-Appeal.

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