Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court concluding that Defendant committed a breach of an "anti-raiding" restrictive covenant entered into between between the parties but held that the equitable remedy fashioned by the trial judge, which expanded the restrictive covenant beyond its plain terms, constituted an abuse of discretion. The restrictive covenant in this case prohibited Defendant from soliciting or hiring employees from Plaintiff, his former company, for a defined period of time. Defendant, however, hired employees from his former company in breach of the restrictive covenant. The superior court judge concluded that the restrictive covenant was enforceable and that Defendant had committed a breach of the covenant. The judge issued injunctive relief extending the length of the restrictive covenant for an additional year beyond the date provided for in the contract. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the restrictive covenant was necessary to protect a legitimate business interest; (2) Defendant committed a breach of the anti-raiding provision; but (3) the use of an equitable remedy to extend the restriction beyond the plain terms of the contract was not warranted without a finding that damages would be inadequate. View "Automile Holdings, LLC v. McGovern" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court allowing Insurer's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiffs' action claiming that Insurer failed to effectuate a prompt, fair, and equitable settlement, holding that consent-to-settle clauses in professional liability policies do not violate Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D, 3(9)(f). Insurer issued a professional liability policy to Insured that contained a consent-to-settle clause. Plaintiffs sued Insured for engineering design errors in their house, and Insured refused to consent to settle. Plaintiffs then brought this action under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. The motion judge granted summary judgment in favor of Insured, concluding that the consent-to-settle clause in this case limited Insurer's ability to engage in further settlement practices with Plaintiffs once Insured refused to give Insurer consent to settle Plaintiffs' claims. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that where Insurer made good faith efforts to investigate the claim and encourage Insured to settle and where Insurer's shortcomings did not proximately cause harm to Plaintiffs the superior court did not err in allowing Insurer's motion for summary judgment. View "Rawan v. Continental Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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In this appeal from ongoing litigation involving adjoining property owners the Supreme Judicial Court vacated the motion judge's order denying plaintiff developer's special motion to dismiss defendant abutters' counterclaims, holding that the abutters could not demonstrate that their claims were not strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP suits). The developer filed a complaint against the abutters alleging abuse of process and violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. Both parties were then involved in motions filed under the anti-SLAPP act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H. Here, the developer appealed from the denial of its special motion to dismiss the abutters' counterclaims alleging breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, abuse of process, and violation of chapter 93A. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case for entry of an order allowing the special motion to dismiss, holding (1) none of the abutters' contract-based counterclaims was colorable; and (2) the abutters failed to demonstrate that any of their remaining counterclaims were not retaliatory. View "477 Harrison Avenue, LLC v. JACE Boston, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the legal relationship between the commercial custodian of three nondiscretionary IRAs and a named beneficiary of those accounts the Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part the decision of the superior court judge allowing UBS Financial Services, Inc.'s (UBS) motion for judgment on the pleadings as to all of Donna Aliberti's claims, holding that the facts alleged stated a claim that UBS's conduct violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9 (chapter 93A). Following the death of the IRAs' original account holder this dispute arose between Aliberti, a named IRA beneficiary, and UBS, as IRA custodian. Aliberti asserted claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of chapter 93A, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The superior court judge allowed UBS's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to all claims. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding (1) there was no plausible claim for breach of fiduciary duty because the custodian of a nondiscretionary IRA does not generally owe a fiduciary duty to a named beneficiary of that IRA; and (2) the interactions between the commercial custodian of a nondiscretionary IRA and a named beneficiary of that IRA occur in a business context within the meaning of chapter 93A, and the alleged injurious conduct of UBS plausibly constituted a chapter 93A violation. View "UBS Financial Services, Inc. v. Aliberti" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court allowing Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s action for legal fees, holding that Plaintiff’s claim for fees was time barred by the statute of limitations applicable to contract actions set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, 2. Plaintiff, an assignee of a law firm, brought this action for legal fees against a former employee of the law firm, as representative of the estate of the decedent, a former law firm client, for the payment of certain legal fees allegedly owed by the decedent to the law firm under a contingent fee agreement. A superior court judge granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s claim for fees was barred by the statue of limitations applicable to contract actions set forth in Conn. Gen. Laws ch. 260, 2. View "Halstrom v. Dube" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court allowing Defendant’s motion to dismiss this complaint seeking a judgment declaring that an appraisal was invalid and nonbinding and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, holding that the common-law rule established in Eliot v. Coulee, 322 Mass. 86, 91 (1947), properly balances the need for fair valuations with the need for finality in the appraisal process and that an appearance of bias alone is insufficient to invalidate an appraisal. The common-law rule established in Eliot provides that where parties agree that the fair value of a property shall be determined by an appraiser, the correctness of the methods of the appraiser’s valuation cannot be inquired into by the courts in the absence of fraud, corruption, dishonesty or bad faith. Plaintiff asked the Court to modify the rule to allow a judge to invalidate an appraisal where there is the appearance of bias on the part of the entity that employed the individual appraiser. The Supreme Judicial Court declined to modify the common-law rule and affirmed the dismissal of this case, holding that the facts alleged did not require a court to invalidate an independent appraisal agreed to by the parties. View "Buffalo-Water 1, LLC v. Fidelity Real Estate Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this civil case, the Supreme Court held that, for purposes of measuring fault under the doctrine of in pari delicto, only the conduct of senior management is imputed to the plaintiff organization. Plaintiff in this case was a college acting through its agents. At issue was whether courts in this case should follow the traditional principles of agency law and impute the wrongdoing of those agents to Plaintiff when determining whether it should be barred from recovery under the in pari delicto doctrine. The trial judge granted summary judgment to Defendant under the doctrine of in pari delicto after imputing to Plaintiff the wrongdoing of an employee who was not a member of senior management. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the summary judgment order, holding that where summary judgment was granted to Defendant on the sole ground that Plaintiff’s claims were barred under the in pari delicto doctrine, the case must be remanded for consideration of Defendant’s other grounds for summary judgment. View "Merrimack College v. KPMG LLP" on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the superior court’s allowance of the insurers’ motion for summary judgment, holding that the allegations in the underlying complaint were sufficient to trigger the insurers’ duty to defend the insured in the underlying action. The two insurers in this case had issued several general commercial liability policies to the insured. The insured was sued in federal court for improper advertising. The insurers denied coverage on the ground that a provision in the policies covering improper use of another’s advertising idea did not cover the claims raised in the action but, nevertheless, agreed to fund the insured’s defense under a reservation of rights. The insurers then sought a declaration that they were not obligated to defend the insured in the underlying action. The superior court granted summary judgment for the insurers. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the policies that the insured purchased, which provided coverage in the event the insured was sued for alleged advertising injuries, covered the insured for the claims at issue in the underlying action. View "Holyoke Mutual Insurance Co. in Salem v. Vibram USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by allowing Defendant’s motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens because a Massachusetts choice of law provision in a confidentiality, nonsolicitation, and noncompetition agreement between the parties in this case was unenforceable. Defendant was employed in California by Plaintiff, a company headquartered in Massachusetts. Plaintiff signed an agreement as a condition of employment that declared that the agreement would be governed by Massachusetts law and that all lawsuits arising from the agreement would be brought in a Massachusetts court. When Defendant left to work for a California competitor, Plaintiff filed suit in the Massachusetts Superior Court. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens, and the trial judge allowed the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) where California substantive law would apply under choice of law principles and where the application of Massachusetts substantive law would violate California public policy favoring open competition and employee mobility, the Massachusetts choice of law provision was not enforceable; and (2) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in deciding that this action should be dismissed on the ground of forum non conveniens. View "Oxford Global Resources, LLC v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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At issue was when a right of first refusal may be exercised under the terms of the agreements executed in connection with the project in this case. The parties here were partners in a limited partnership formed for the purpose of rehabilitating and operating an affordable housing complex under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program set forth in 26 U.S.C. 42. Under the agreements executed in connection with the project, the majority owner of the general partner held a right of first refusal to purchase the partnership’s interest in the property in accordance with section 42(i)(7). Plaintiffs commenced this action seeking a declaratory judgment as to the parties’ rights under the relevant agreements, arguing that the right of first refusal could be exercised once a third party makes an enforceable offer to purchase the property interest. Defendants argued that the right of first refusal could not be exercised unless the partnership received a bona fide offer from a third party and decided, with the special limited partner’s consent, to accept that offer. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the superior court judge correctly granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs under the facts of this case. View "Homeowner's Rehab, Inc. v. Related Corporate V SLP, L.P." on Justia Law