The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department had the right to get out of a ten-year lease seven years early because of a clause in a separate city document that the landlord didn't get canceled in writing - and which was not attached to the lease it did sign.
This is the second time in two years the sheriff's office has managed to get out of a lease because of language in documents not directly tied to leases.
At issue was a lease on office space on Morton Street in Jamaica Plain. In 2000, the sheriff's office signed a ten-year lease for the space, but then canceled the lease three years later when state funding for the program it had housed there ran out.
The landlord sued under a clause in the contract that specified the sheriff would have to continue to pay the lease even if it wanted out. The sheriff's office, however, argued that a city form, which was referenced in an appendix to the lease, but not attached to it, specified the sheriff could get out of the lease with just seven days' notice.
The court noted that the landlord's agent noticed this at the last minute, looked up the city form and told the sheriff's office he could not sign the lease unless that clause were stricken. Whoever negotiated the lease for the sheriff basically told him it was just boilerplate to keep the lawyers happy. The agent signed the lease but attached a letter noting that conversation.
The court, however, ruled, tough, it's not the sheriff's fault the landlord failed to follow through and get the cancellation in writing, as part of the lease, so the sheriff wins.
The complete ruling follows: