In Brining v. Donovan, the latest blow to former MIT business professor, John J. Donovan, Judge Davis held that shareholders in Donovan’s failed internet start-up, SendItLater (SIL), could recover more than $700,000 in attorneys’ fees in addition to a December 2019 award of $1.57 million in damages. Relying on equitable principles, Judge Davis also prohibited Donovan’s company and SIL shareholder, Securenet Holdings, LLC (Securenet), from sharing in the award. Judge Davis also ruled that the award must be distributed to the remaining shareholders based on each shareholder’s investment, rather than per-share basis, so as to render shares obtained by Donovan’s wife, Linda Donovan, under “suspect” conditions effectively worthless.
Considering the rights of parties involved in a soured business relationship, Judge Kaplan reiterated that a binding contract requires an agreement on the material terms and an intent to be bound. A term sheet that does not represent an attempt to formalize an already established agreement is not an enforceable contract.
Proving that motions for reconsideration are not always futile, Judge Sanders exercised her discretion to undo part of her own prior ruling. Judge Sanders previously ruled in the case before her that the plaintiffs’ breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim survived summary judgment. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants sold tilapia “without providing plaintiffs an opportunity to participate in these transactions.” In support of this allegation, the plaintiffs relied on their own interrogatory answer. Judge Sanders, on reconsideration, pointed out that the answer was “not based on personal knowledge and therefore d[i]d not constitute admissible evidence under Rule 56(e).” (Mass. R. Civ. P. 56(e) states that “[s]upporting and opposing affidavits shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.”) For that reason, among others, Judge Sanders allowed the defendants’ motion for reconsideration and awarded summary judgment against the breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim.
- Senior Editor, Co-Chair, Business Litigation Practice Group