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Massachusetts Court Shields Email Communication Seeking Legal Advice About Draft Press Release

Adversaries often challenge each other’s privilege calls in the thick of litigation, and sometimes those challenges are elevated to a court’s in camera review. In Governo Law Firm LLC v. CMBG3 Law LLC, et al., Judge Salinger, sitting in the Massachusetts Business Litigation Session, ruled that the attorney-client privilege protected from production a confidential email from the defendants to their counsel “seeking feedback on a draft press release . . . embedded in the text of the email.”

After reviewing the email in camera, Judge Salinger ruled that “it is evident that this defendant sent this confidential communication to counsel in order to elicit legal advice as to whether issuing a press release in this form could create any legal exposure for the Defendants.” Although the communication “does not contain legal advice,” “that does not matter,” explained Judge Salinger. “Any confidential communication between attorney and client, in either direction, is privileged if it [is] made for the purpose of obtaining or giving legal advice—whether the communication conveys legal advice or not.”

Boston University Must Face Trial on Oral Contract Claim Made by Former Research Scientist

In Kirk Ramey v. Trustees of Boston University, et al., Judge Krupp, sitting in the Business Litigation Session, ruled that Ramey, a former BU research scientist, was entitled to a trial on his claim that defendants, BU and Dr. Edward Damiano, breached an oral agreement to provide Ramey an equity stake in Beta Bionics, a medical device company.

The oral contract, Ramey alleges, arose from two conversations he had with Dr. Damiano, a BU biomedical engineering professor. One of the conversations took place before Ramey accepted a position in Dr. Damiano’s lab. Dr. Damiano did not dispute that the conversations took place, but denied that he had agreed to give Ramey an equity interest in Beta Bionics, which had not yet been formed when Ramey began work. Neither conversation was memorialized in writing.

Justice: Justice Krupp
Massachusetts’ Highest Court Affirms Ruling Against Restaurants Seeking Insurance Coverage for Losses Arising from COVID-19 Dining Restrictions

In Verveine Corp., et al., v. Strathmore Insurance Company, et al., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that claims for business losses made by three restaurants arising from COVID-19 dining restrictions were not covered by “all-risk” property insurance policies because the losses were not “direct physical loss or damage” under those policies.

In spring 2020, Governor Baker issued an emergency order prohibiting in-person dining at restaurants and bars in the Commonwealth. Two of the plaintiffs responded by offering takeout and delivery services, while the third plaintiff suspended operations. Though limited in-person dining resumed in June 2020, the plaintiffs continued to lose revenue due to the restrictions. The restaurants filed insurance claims for the lost income. Strathmore Insurance Company denied the claims. The restaurants then brought a declaratory judgment action against Strathmore and asserted claims for breach of contract and violation of G. L. c. 93A and G. L. c. 176D. Superior Court Judge Sanders dismissed the claims, ruling that the restaurants did not suffer “direct physical loss or damage,” as required by the policies.

Massachusetts Court Bars “Reasonable Royalty” Evidence Based on Law of the Case Doctrine

After successfully appealing a judgment and obtaining a remand of its Chapter 93A claim to the Massachusetts BLS, the Governo Law Firm moved to admit expert testimony about a “reasonable royalty” measure of damages. Governo had sued six former nonequity partners whom the law firm alleged had misappropriated proprietary databases and electronic files. Deciding Governo’s motion, Judge Salinger ruled that Governo had waived its right to challenge the admission of the damages testimony because Governo had failed to raise the argument on appeal.

Judge Salinger’s decision turned on the procedural history of the case.

Massachusetts Court Rejects Attorney General Healey’s Attempt to Shield Identities of Uber and Lyft Drivers Under Investigatory Privilege

Judge Krupp, sitting in the Massachusetts Business Litigation Session, granted Uber’s motion to compel documents containing the identities of drivers who shared information with the Attorney General about their work for Uber and Lyft.

In Healey v. Uber Technologies (see our prior update here), the AG invoked the investigatory privilege to resist production. The purposes of the investigatory privilege, according to the Supreme Judicial Court in Bougas v. Chief of Police of Lexington, include:

Justice: Justice Krupp
BLS April 2022 Detailed 42-Page Practice Guide

In conjunction with the Massachusetts Bar Association, the current BLS judges prepared personalized responses to practice-related questions. Those questions and answers were then turned into a practice guide, which you can link to here. The guide, presented in question-and-answer format, has a wealth of information on topics of interest to practitioners and clients alike.

Judge Strikes Fiduciary Duty Claims Asserted by FTI Against Former Employees, But Not Aiding and Abetting Claim Asserted by FTI Against Berkeley Research Group

FTI sued three of its former employees who went to work for Berkeley Research Group (Berkeley), an FTI competitor. The former employees, FTI alleged, breached their FTI employment contracts and their fiduciary duty of loyalty owed to FTI. FTI also sued Berkeley, alleging that Berkeley aided and abetted the former employees’ breach of their fiduciary duties.

The defendants moved to strike the fiduciary-duty claims. Judge Salinger allowed the motion in part, striking the claim for breach of fiduciary duty against the former employees. But Judge Salinger denied the motion to the extent that it aimed to strike the aiding and abetting claim against Berkeley.

Judge Salinger Dismisses "Conclusory Assertions" Against Project Manager in Commercial Real Estate Dispute

Judge Salinger dismissed a real estate developer’s counterclaims against a project manager, ruling that the counterclaim allegations did not “plausibly suggest that [project manager] [wa]s liable for the contractor’s missteps.”

In Gerhardt v. Burr, the developer hired a project manager to oversee construction of a commercial property. According to the developer, a contractor defectively installed flooring during construction. The project manager filed suit, alleging insufficient payment. The developer, in turn, counterclaimed that the project manager “‘failed to perform his duties and fulfill his obligations’ because he was ‘responsible for ensuring that the Project was completed properly’ and the project was completed improperly.”

In COVID-19 Trip Cancellation Dispute, Judge Ricciuti Allows Massachusetts Consumer Protection Claim to Proceed

Judge Ricciuti ruled that the plaintiff, whose educational-travel trip was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, stated a viable Chapter 93A claim that the contractual remedy provided by the tour operator improperly limited available regulatory remedies.

In Godines, et al. v. EF Explore America, Inc., the contract permitted the tour operator to cancel the plaintiff’s trip due to an “Extraordinary Event.” There was no dispute that the COVID-19 pandemic was such an event. The contract further provided that, in the event of cancellation, customers would receive a voucher for future travel, less non-refundable fees. But the applicable consumer-protection regulation,  940 CMR 15.06, provides that if a trip is cancelled, a travel company must offer a full refund, a substitution travel service of equal value, or a lower-valued travel service and refund the difference. The contract, in other words, offered “more limited relief,” and the tour operator issued only a partial refund.

BLS 2022 Preferences for Hearings, Conferences, Trials, and Filings

The judges sitting in the BLS during calendar year 2022 recently adopted and published guidance about their preferences and practices on court proceedings and filings. These preferences and practices include:

  • encouraging the active participation in court proceedings by junior attorneys;
  • asking parties to include in motion papers a brief explanation of their preference between in-person versus virtual proceedings;
  • promoting in-person trials and evidentiary hearings; and
  • explaining the circumstances where paper or digital copies should accompany electronic filings.

The complete guidance can be found here.

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