2024 Legislative Session Dates
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Key Takeaways:

  • Massachusetts’ Supreme Court recently issued opinions regarding local restrictions on tobacco sales that could send ripples beyond its own jurisdictional borders.
  • Current Massachusetts state law prohibits the provision of tobacco products to any one under the age of 21. In a recent case, the Massachusetts Supreme Court was asked to determine the constitutionality of a first-of-its-kind town bylaw prohibiting the sale of tobacco products by year of birth. 
  • Opponents of the law brought suit alleging that the bylaw violates equal protection guarantees and is preempted by the state tobacco law.
  • The Supreme Court, however, found no such issues with the local law. The Court held that the bylaw’s more stringent standards are not “inconsistent, contrary, or conflicting” with the state law, and therefore, not subject to preemption.
  • This edition of the Court Report also includes notable decisions in 16 other states, ranging from law enforcement use of small aircraft with cameras in Alaska to minimum wage in Oklahoma.

State high courts issue thousands of opinions each year, and these court decisions have just as much of an impact on public policy as the legislative process. To help you keep track of consequential judicial decisions and their impact on state policy, MultiState publishes the Monthly Court Report, which offers a monthly recap of notable state high court decisions to provide a more dynamic picture of public policy trends.

Landmark Massachusetts Decision Permits First-of-Its-Kind Local Tobacco Restrictions

As discussed last month in our review of the Alabama Supreme Court’s frozen embryo personhood decision, a state supreme court’s opinion can send ripples beyond its own jurisdictional borders. Such an impact will likely be the case with one of the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s recent opinions regarding local restrictions on tobacco sales. Current Massachusetts state law prohibits the provision of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. This falls directly in line with the federal minimum legal sales age law, which increased the restricted age from 18 to 21 in 2019. Forty-one states also recognized this age restriction in their state laws. Tobacco opponents, however, continue to explore new ways to increase restrictions.

In Six Brothers, Inc. v Town of Brookline, the Massachusetts Supreme Court was asked to determine the constitutionality of a first-of-its-kind town bylaw prohibiting the sale of tobacco products, not by age, but by year of birth. The bylaw adopted by the town of Brookline in 2020 bans the sale of all tobacco products to any individual whose birthday occurs on or after January 1, 2000, no matter their age. Opponents of the law brought suit alleging that the bylaw violates equal protection guarantees and is preempted by the state tobacco law. 

The Court, however, found no such issues with the local law. The Court held that the bylaw’s more stringent standards are not “inconsistent, contrary, or conflicting” with the state law, and therefore, not subject to preemption. Opponents also failed to find success with their equal protection argument. Since Brookline’s bylaw does not restrict a fundamental right or impose limitations upon a protected class, the court found that the bylaw need only pass the minimum standard of scrutiny. Such a standard merely requires that the law be rationally related to a legitimate state interest, and the Court’s own precedent has already held that the negative impact of tobacco use is a legitimate public health concern. The Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision will almost certainly draw attention from advocates on both sides of the law across the country and possibly make Brookline’s tobacco bylaws a model for future state and local legislation.

Other Key March Decisions 


Alaska’s Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before they may use an aircraft and binoculars or cameras with zoom lenses to survey property around homes. Although small aircraft travel is quite common in Alaska, this did not convince the court that such a purposeful intrusion by law enforcement would be excluded from search and seizure protections. Read more.


The Arizona Supreme Court issued a brief decision permitting claims of defamation to proceed against Kari Lake, a prior gubernatorial candidate, rejecting her claims of First Amendment protections. Lake previously made claims against Maricopa County’s Recorder in regard to actions during the 2022 election. Read more.


California’s Supreme Court resolved a conflict between its appellate courts by determining that lemon law plaintiffs need not have their restitution reduced by the money they receive from a trade-in or sale of the car in question. The Court asserted that while the law did list exceptions, it clearly did not include an offset for trade-in or sale. Read more.

The California Supreme Court also delivered a win for employees when it ruled that workers are entitled to be paid for time spent in security checkpoints as “employer-mandated travel,” as well as “unpaid meal breaks” if they are restricted from leaving a certain location and are unable to engage in personal activities. The decision stems from a case involving contractors at a Solar Flats Project where the presence of endangered species on the property created lengthy vehicle inspections. Read more.


Colorado’s Supreme Court declared that an insurer may not deny coverage to an insured based solely upon the untimeliness of a claim’s filing, but must prove that such untimeliness prejudicially interferes with the insurer’s ability to investigate the claim under the notice-prejudice rule. The Court cited the “adhesive nature of insurance contracts. the public policy objective of compensating tort victims, and the inequity of granting the insurer a windfall due to a technicality” as the motivation for its ruling.  Read more


The Florida Supreme Court ruled that a bar did not commit an intentional tort, but rather negligence in a case involving a bar that served alcohol to a customer known to be underage and who subsequently got into a drunk driving accident. As a result, the establishment was entitled to a “comparative fault” defense regarding a victim’s injuries that accounted for the driver’s culpability in the accident. Read more.


The Indiana Supreme Court upheld a law requiring that a primary candidate must have voted in the two previous primaries of the party for which they are running. In this case, the candidate had voted in one party’s primary election one year, and the other in the next cycle. The Court rejected the argument that such a law is a violation of free speech and held that the candidate was rightly removed from the ballot. Read more


Maine’s Supreme Court found that Bar Harbor legitimately passed a 2021 rule imposing restrictions on short-term rentals and that the rule did not violate the rights of property owners. The 2021 rule prohibited some short-term rental licensing from being transferred with the sale of certain properties as an attempt to retain affordable housing within the community. Read more.


The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that an employee’s refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and subsequent termination did not disqualify the employee from receiving unemployment benefits. The court reasoned that while her termination was permissible, her actions did not amount to misconduct in regard to unemployment compensation, as her refusal was due to a sincerely held religious belief. Read more.

Massachusetts’ Supreme Court issued another landmark decision when it upheld a first-of-its-kind town law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1, 2000. Opponents argued that the law contradicted the state’s own legal age statutes and equal rights protections, but the court found no such violations. Read more.


The Montana Supreme Court found that a proposed constitutional ballot initiative to protect abortion rights is constitutional, despite arguments that the proposal would confuse voters. Proponents will now move on to write ballot language and obtain the verified signatures necessary to put the proposal on the ballot. Read more.

In a split decision resulting in four separate opinions, the Montana Supreme Court found that four voting-related bills passed by the 2021 legislature were unconstitutional. The bills eliminated election-day voter registration; restricted the use of absentee ballots by certain voters; required additional identification to vote using a student ID; and required the Secretary of State to prohibit payment for collection of absentee ballots. The laws were struck for reasons such as failing to be the least restrictive option and being unreasonable and arbitrary; among others. Read more.


Nebraska’s Supreme Court held that arson qualifies as a “calamity” under the state’s destroyed real property tax relief statute and such damage should result in the decrease of a property’s value for tax purposes. Read more.

New Jersey

The New Jersey Supreme Court limited the rights of consumers to file claims against retailers under the Consumer Fraud Act. In the case, consumers alleged that a retailer advertised sale prices discounted from prices that were never actually charged. While the Court found this to be misleading, it failed to find an “ascertainable loss” to the consumers and reinstated the trial court’s order of dismissal. Read more.

New York

New York’s high court unanimously delivered a win for employee rights proponents when it found that the state’s, as well as New York City’s, human rights protections against discrimination in employment apply not only to residents but also to non-residents seeking employment within the state. Read more.

The high court of New York also ruled in favor of housing and tax advocates, permitting a case to move forward claiming that institutionalized systems impose a disproportionately greater tax burden on lower-income and minority residents. The Court, however, did limit the scope of the claims to Class One and Class Two properties. Read more.


Oklahoma’s Supreme Court found that a state ballot question regarding raising the state minimum wage incrementally until reaching $15 in 2029 was constitutional. Opponents had argued that the question would deny the state of its right to set its own minimum wage by tying it to the Federal Consumer Price Index. Read more


The Oregon Supreme Court maintained its long-held rigorous scrutiny of contractual waivers of tort liability in a case involving a manufacturer claiming immunity from liability to an insurer for losses due to recalled equipment. The Court reiterated its position that tort liability waivers must be clear and unequivocal in order to be valid; conditions which were not present in the contract at hand. Read more.


Utah’s Supreme Court determined that business property owners were not entitled to a reduction in their 2020 property values, despite the impact of the pandemic’s government restrictions on their revenues. While Utah law does permit an adjustment of property value if the property “sustains a decrease in market value that is caused by access interruption,” the Court resolved that the pandemic restrictions did not fall within this category. Read more.


In a split decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against the Catholic Diocese which had sought exemption from paying into the state’s unemployment insurance system for its charitable branch. The Court found that while the charity portion of the Diocese was associated with religion, its primary purpose was “charitable and secular,” and therefore, did not fall within the exemption. Read more.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court also made a major policy impact when it retracted its acceptance of the appeal of a case involving the classification of Amazon delivery drivers. In doing so, it maintained the lower court’s determination that Amazon delivery drivers are employees covered by the state unemployment insurance system. Amazon subsidiary, Amazon Logistics, will now be subject to associated unpaid taxes. Read more.