Skip to main content


Reset A A Font size: Print

Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

Marie WINFIELD & another 1 v. Marilyn Reilley COCHRAN & another.2


Decided: February 10, 2021

By the Court (Lemire, Ditkoff & Grant, JJ.3)


The self-represented plaintiffs (tenants) commenced this action seeking damages from the defendants (landlords) as a result of the alleged wrongful termination of their tenancy at will. Numerous common-law and statutory claims were tried before a Housing Court jury, which found in favor of the landlords on all counts. On appeal, the tenants claim that the judge committed reversible error by submitting “defective, confusing, and internally inconsistent” special verdict questions to the jury. We affirm.

Background. In September 2016, the landlords sent the tenants a notice to quit tenancy of a house rented by the landlords to the tenants. The landlords filed a summary process complaint on November 21, 2016, seeking possession of the house and damages. On December 1, 2016, the parties entered into an agreement for judgment that allowed the tenants to continue their tenancy subject to conditions. Pursuant to the agreement for judgment, as amended on September 6, 2017, the tenants agreed to vacate the premises on or before January 30, 2018. On November 21, 2017, however, due to nonpayment of rent and pursuant to the terms of the amended agreement, an execution for possession and damages issued in favor of the landlords.

In their complaint in this action, the tenants alleged that the filing and ultimate adjudication of the summary process complaint brought by the landlords was retaliatory and otherwise improper. Following a two-day jury trial, judgment entered in favor of the landlords on all counts.4

Discussion. The thrust of the tenants' claim on appeal is that the nature and composition of the special questions required the jury to make findings that necessarily excluded certain improper conduct attributable to the landlords. The tenants argue that the verdict form did not track the evidence adduced at trial, leaving the jury unable to render a consistent verdict. We disagree.

“The nature, scope, and form of special questions submitted to a jury pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 49 (a), 365 Mass. 812 (1974), are matters within the discretion of the trial judge.” Everett v. Bucky Warren, Inc., 376 Mass. 280, 291 (1978). “Both as to whether special questions shall be put to a jury and the form and content of those questions, the trial judge has wide discretion.” Price v. Cole, 31 Mass. App. Ct. 1, 5 (1991).

We have carefully reviewed the record in this case, including the transcripts, special verdict form, and complaint. The fifteen special questions corresponded to the allegations in the tenants' complaint. Each question related to the acts which prompted this lawsuit -- the termination of the tenants' tenancy and their ultimate eviction. The trial judge's jury instructions were complete, and they thoroughly addressed the law as it pertained to each of the seven counts. See Draghetti v. Chmielewski, 416 Mass. 808, 818 (1994) (“We view the questions submitted to the jury in light of the instructions given by the judge”). There was no abuse of discretion in submitting the special questions to the jury.

Judgment affirmed.


4.   Seven claims were tried to the jury: (1) violation of various statutory termination requirements; (2) breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment; (3) breach of contract; (4) retaliation; (5) concerted action; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (7) unfair and deceptive acts in violation of G. L. c. 93A.

Was this helpful?

Thank you. Your response has been sent.

Copied to clipboard