Rare Legal Decision in Orleans District Court

Attorney Mary L. Giorgio obtained a rare legal decision construing the statute of limitations of the so-called “vicious dog statute”, G.L. c. 140, §157. The Orleans District Court allowed the Town of Wellfleet Board of Selectmen’s Motion to Dismiss a complaint brought under that statute on the basis that it was untimely filed. Following is a brief case summary. (Lucinda Goldman v. Board of Selectmen of the Town of Wellfleet)

After a public hearing on a complaint concerning an alleged vicious dog, the Board of Selectmen ordered the dog banished from the Town. The dog owner, who with her counsel, attended the hearing, subsequently petitioned the Orleans District Court to review and reverse the decision pursuant to G.L. c. 140, §157. That statute requires that such a petition be filed “within ten days after such order.” The order was sent by mail to petitioner’s permanent residence and hand delivered to petitioner’s summer house in Wellfleet on a Wednesday. The tenth day, from the date the order was voted, fell on the second Friday after the vote. The tenth day, after the order was sent, fell on the second Saturday after the order was sent. Town argued the statute required, at the latest, that the complaint for review be filed on the next business day after the second Saturday, which would be the following Monday. The complaint was not filed until Tuesday, one day late, and, consequently, the Town argued that the complaint should be dismissed as the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the complaint on the basis that it was untimely filed.

The District Court agreed, finding that the filing period commenced upon either the date the Selectmen voted the banishment order or, at the latest, the date it was sent to the dog owner, not the date of receipt of the order. The Court also found that the intermediate weekend days within the ten-day period should not be excluded from the computation of the ten-day filing period. Accordingly, the Court found that the complaint was late filed and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.