What started as a dispute between owners of adjoining parcels on Rte. 9 in Brookline over a luxury condo project one of them wants to build has turned into a federal lawsuit over whether companies based outside of the state should be forced to register with Massachusetts just to be able to file a lawsuit in state court here.
At the center of the controversy is a 13-unit complex that developer Merrill Diamond wants to build on a three-acre site overlooking the Brookline Reservoir.
After the town zoning board approved the proposal this past spring, a limited liability company that owns a couple of neighboring parcels sued in state court to block the development - but says it was not allowed to sue in state court at first because it's based in Minnesota and had not registered with the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office as a "foreign" corporation.
So BoylstonD3 LLC - which is registered to Shona Pendse, a doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital who lives in a house on one of the parcels - paid the registration fees. And then the company sued to stop the project in state Land Court.
Yesterday, BoylstonD3 filed suit in US District Court in Boston, as well, asking for a judge to rule that it shouldn't have been forced to pay the state's fees to register the LLC here because it violates the 14th Amendment right to equal treatment of citizens of one state by another state. The suit also asks for a federal judge to basically order a state Land Court judge to ignore a motion by the developer and the town to dismiss the Land Court case.
In its complaint, the LLC says that Massachusetts does not require Massachusetts residents and companies - and "non-corporate citizens of other states" - to register or pay a fee first just to file a lawsuit. Since companies are legally "citizens," the state is violating the 14th Amendment, the LLC charges.
Pendse is no stranger to federal court in Massachusetts.
Last year, after she and her husband moved up here from the Washington, DC area, the couple unsuccessfully sued to try to get their son into Boston Latin School. The two argued that Pendse and her son were living in Boston - a requirement for admission to the school - but were unable to provide proof that Boston school officials would accept that they actually were after their deal to buy a house in West Roxbury fell through.
A federal judge rejected their argument that even if they didn't live in Boston, their son had a constitutional right - also under the 14th Amendment - to attend Boston Latin.