Attorney General Martha Coakley Obtains Appointment of a Receiver to Manage the Pocasset Mobile Home Park
Under the terms of the receivership order entered on February 18, 2011, by Judge Bonnie MacLeod in Suffolk Superior Court, Hyannis attorney, Charles M. Sabatt has been appointed as receiver to temporarily manage the Pocasset Mobile Home Park, LLC ("Pocasset MHP"), which operates the manufactured housing community, and the Charles W. Austin Trust ("Trust"), which owns the park. Under the order, the receiver is required to maintain the property, including its septic system, in a safe and healthful condition, in compliance with State environmental and sanitary laws during the pendency of the Commonwealth's court action against the Trust and Pocasset MHP, and Charles W. Austin, the individual who controls them. Pursuant to the order, residents' rents are payable to the receiver as of the effective date of the order.
In its emergency motion for appointment of the receiver, the Attorney General alleges that Austin had refused to pump and maintain the septic system and failed to comply with the court's recent December 10, 2010 preliminary injunction order, and previous orders. The AG's Office alleges that as a result of his failure to comply with the orders there have been repeated sewage overflows from the septic system to the ground and to the yards of residents, including incidents from November 2010 through January 2011, in which a pool of sewage effluent accumulated around the system's leaching pits for days at a time. According to the motion, the town of Bourne and the Commonwealth were forced to conduct emergency pumping at the property several times during those months in order to address the overflows. The AG's Office alleges that Austin's failure to comply with the court's orders puts the health and safety of the residents of the property at risk of exposure to untreated sewage.
"Austin's refusal to comply with the reasonable terms of the court's preliminary injunction orders has placed the residents of the Pocasset Mobile Home Park and the environment at risk," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "These failures have made it necessary to appoint a receiver to manage the property to prevent further unpermitted sewage discharges and to ensure that the health of the residents and the environment are protected."
"This company and its owner have demonstrated they are unwilling to operate in a manner that protects the public health or the environment," said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell. "Today's decision is in the best interests of the public, and the park's residents who deserve to have the day-to-day operation run by a person who is ready to do the job properly."
Under the receivership order, the receiver is required to use the rent income from the property, as well as other assets of the Trust and Pocasset MHP, to operate the property, including ensuring that the septic system complies with the State Sanitary Code and environmental laws.
The lawsuit against Austin, the Trust, and Pocasset MHP was filed on May 21, 2009. The lawsuit alleges the defendants failed to comply with state law by failing to repair and upgrade the park's deteriorated septic system, causing untreated sewage to backup into several lots at Pocasset Mobile Home Park. The lawsuit further states that this alleged inaction by the defendants has put the health of the park's residents and the environment at risk.
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties for violation of the Commonwealth's environmental and consumer protection laws and a permanent injunction requiring Austin to construct a new sewage disposal system that complies with current laws. On November 5, 2010, Attorney General Coakley filed a summary judgment motion asking the court to find the defendants liable for the violations. A hearing has not yet been scheduled by the court on that motion.
The Attorney General's Office brought this action on behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection ("MassDEP"). The complaint seeks to enforce alleged violations under the Massachusetts Clean Waters Act, and the Consumer Protection Act.
Assistant Attorney General Tracy Triplett from Attorney General Coakley's Environmental Protection Division is handling this case, with assistance from Shaun Walsh of MassDEP's Office of General Counsel and MassDEP engineers Brian Dudley and Christos Dimisioris. The Bourne Board of Health has also provided valuable assistance in investigating the case.