Update: In January 2021, the Hampshire Superior Court ordered Summer Hill Estates Condominium to allow residents to post signs at their units, citing the free speech provision of the state constitution.
In October 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with attorney Luke Ryan, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Margery Jess, a resident at the Summer Hill Estates Condominium development in Belchertown. Ms. Jess was ordered by the trustees at Summer Hill to remove a “Black Lives Matter” sign that she had placed in a common area outside her condominium unit or face severe financial penalties.
Many residents at Summer Hill display or have displayed signs in the common areas near the front of their units expressing their views, including support for military service members, frontline medical workers, and graduating high school seniors. The trustees have allowed these signs to remain while singling out Ms. Jess for excessive punishment.
Under the rules and regulations at Summer Hill, condominium owners cannot post any sign or other decoration expressing their patriotic, civil, moral, political, or other views in the common areas without the prior written permission of the trustees. The rules do not provide any standards to govern the trustees’ exercise of discretion with respect to what kinds of expression will be permitted or denied.
The complaint alleges that the trustees have wielded this discretion to discriminate based on the content and viewpoint of the messages condominium owners seek to express, and in spite of the requirement in condo documents prohibiting them from withholding permission unreasonably.
The complaint seeks rulings declaring: 1) that the condominium rules, as applied by the trustees, are unlawful because they violate the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; 2) that these rules violate the principle of equitable reasonableness; 3) that the trustees are in breach of contract; 4) that the trustees are in violation of state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of creed; and 5) that the trustees are in violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.