In Cuddy v. Eldredge Pub. Library, WL 2687415 (Mass. App. Ct. June 22, 2017), the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a Superior Court decision that subsequent intervenors are not liable for a prior intervenor’s attorneys’ fees under the common fund or common benefit doctrines. In so ruling, the Appeals Court rejected the prior intervenor’s argument that the Superior Court should have conditioned the subsequent intervention as of right upon payment of the prior intervenor’s attorneys’ fees. Under well settled Massachusetts law, a trial judge has considerable discretion in determining whether the requirements of intervention have been met. Furthermore, the prior intervenor did not confer any benefit on the subsequent intervenors – to the contrary it had deprived them of their interest in the subject property.
In August 2005, Paul Cuddy and Paul O’Connell, III, trustee of the Quason Realty Trust commenced an action in the Massachusetts Superior Court to quiet title to land once owned by Thomas Smith and Samuel Ryder. In December of the same year the Eldredge Public Library intervened in the action, claiming an interest in the parcel of land once owned by Smith. On April 30, 2012, the Superior Court found that the Library owned at least a fifty (50) percent stake in the parcel once owned by Smith. In December 2015, the Superior Court allowed two additional parties to intervene finding that Cynthia Webber and Norman Keyes collectively owned a three-eighths share of the Smith parcel. The court allowed these parties to intervene in part because they agreed to be bound by the court’s decision of 2012. The court subsequently denied the Library’s request to have the subsequent intervenors pay a portion of its attorney’s fees under the common fund doctrine.
The Appeals Court affirmed the ruling of the Superior Court, citing to the considerable discretion given to trial courts when determining if the requirements of intervention have been met. The Court ruled that the trail court did not abuse its discretion. The court reasoned that the benefit received by the subsequent intervenors did not derive from the actions of the original intervenor because it became available only once they made appearances through their own attorneys. In fact, the actions of the original intervenor deprived them of their interest in the land.
By finding no error on the part of the Superior Court, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals adhered to the American rule that each party is responsible for paying its own attorney’s fees.
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