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Firm Obtains Reversal of Massachusetts Lower Court’s Judgment in Chase Cottages Dispute

January 11, 2017


Montgomery McCracken attorney Albert L. Piccerilli obtained reversal of a lower court’s judgment in the matter of the ownership of three prime, historically-certified waterfront properties in the exclusive, historically-preserved Old Village section of Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.  The Firm represented the Young Women’s Christian Association of Philadelphia, Inc., which is doing business under the fictitious name Avis Chase Women’s Association of Philadelphia (“Philadelphia”).

The facts of the case date back to 1951, when in her last will and testament, Avis Augusta Morton Chase bequeathed the three properties, which became known as the Chase Cottages, to Philadelphia on the condition that the cottages be used by Philadelphia as a place that was available for the benefit, rest and recreation of women who were members of the Philadelphia organization. The will also provided that after the death of the last annuitant under the will, the cottages were to be conveyed to Philadelphia “absolutely and in fee simple,” to be used by Philadelphia for the purposes stated in the will. Mrs. Chase died in 1953. The last annuitant under her will died in the 1990’s and the Chase Cottages were conveyed to Philadelphia “absolutely and in fee simple” in 1999.

In 2012, the Young Women’s Christian Association of Boston (“Boston”) filed a complaint against Philadelphia in the Probate and Family Court of Barnstable County, Massachusetts.  Claiming to have gift-over rights to the Chase Cottages, Boston sought ownership of the cottages on the alleged ground that Philadelphia was not using the cottages as Mrs. Chase had intended.  Philadelphia moved to dismiss Boston’s complaint on the ground that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the lawsuit, and also on the ground that Boston’s gift-over rights had expired and, thus, Boston had no standing to sue.  The court denied Philadelphia’s motions to dismiss and set the case for trial on the sole issue of whether Philadelphia was using the cottages as a place that was available for the benefit, rest and recreation of women who were members of the Philadelphia organization, as Mrs. Chase had required in her will. Despite uncontroverted evidence – offered by both sides – that Philadelphia had always used the cottages as Mrs. Chase had required, the court nevertheless ordered that the cottages be conveyed to Boston on the ground that Philadelphia was a much smaller organization with fewer programs than it was when Mrs. Chase made her bequest.

Asserting multiple procedural and substantive errors, Philadelphia appealed the probate court’s orders and its judgment to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. On December 8, 2016, the Appeals Court reversed the probate court’s judgment, holding that the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the lawsuit and that Boston lacked standing to sue.  The Appeals Court also ordered that Boston’s complaint against Philadelphia be dismissed. The effect of the Appeals Court’s ruling is that the Chase Cottages remain with Philadelphia, the Firm’s client.

Mr. Piccerilli, a member of Montgomery McCracken’s litigation department, represented the Philadelphia organization. Piccerilli has represented large domestic and multi-national corporations and insurance companies, as well as individuals, institutions and closely-held businesses, in a variety of matters through alternative dispute resolution, trials and appeals. His experience also includes products liability and toxic tort litigation and preventive counseling, business litigation, insurance counseling and coverage litigation, bad faith, casualty, professional liability, employment litigation, and higher education matters.

About Montgomery McCracken

Montgomery McCracken is a full-service law firm with offices in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. The firm represents leading businesses, multinational corporations, nonprofit organizations and individuals across a wide range of industries in complex litigation matters, significant corporate transactions and challenging disputes. Follow the firm on Twitter at @MMWR_Law.