Judge Krupp, sitting in the Massachusetts Business Litigation Session, ruled that the statute of limitations barred the plaintiff’s tort, contract, and unfair and deceptive practices claims against Williams-Sonoma.
In Gattineri v. Williams-Sonoma Stores, the plaintiff, a former Williams-Sonoma sales employee, alleged that she showed her idea of “The Perfect Brownie Pan” to a Williams-Sonoma district manager in 2003. Although the district manager signed a non-disclosure agreement, the agreement did not signify that the manager was signing it in any representative capacity. Williams-Sonoma never developed the pan into a marketable product. In mid-2009, the plaintiff saw a television infomercial for a virtually identical product marketed under the name “The Perfect Brownie Pan.” In early 2018, the plaintiff learned that the district manager had shown the plaintiff’s prototype to an entity affiliated with the informercial back in 2003. The plaintiff sued Williams-Sonoma (as well as other defendants) in November 2021.
Considering Williams-Sonoma’s motion to dismiss, Judge Krupp observed that the Massachusetts “discovery rule” only “tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows, or reasonably should have known, that it has been harmed or may have been harmed by the defendant’s conduct.” A plaintiff may be put on inquiry notice that a cause of action has accrued, Judge Krupp wrote, “where it is informed of facts that would suggest to a reasonably prudent person in the same position that an injury has been suffered as a result of the defendant’s conduct.”
Judge Krupp ruled that because the “plaintiff saw her pan advertised on television in mid-2009,” she knew then “that someone else had brought her idea to market” and therefore the plaintiff at that time “had actual knowledge that she had been harmed.” According to Judge Krupp, the fact that the plaintiff “did not know the mechanism of injury—i.e., exactly how her idea for the Perfect Brownie Pan got from [the district manager] to [the advertiser]” in mid-2009—did not toll the statute of limitations. In mid-2009, the plaintiff “knew that she had been injured,” explained Judge Krupp.
Judge Krupp also rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the reasonable-person standard requires a court to look to every particular of a plaintiff’s circumstance. “Individual variations in judgment, intellect, or psychological health which are unrelated to the complained of conduct are not considered,” Judge Krupp wrote. “The reasonable person standard,” he explained, “requires the Court to consider whether a reasonable person who had invented ‘The Perfect Brownie Pan’ would have discovered, or should have discovered, that she had been harmed and who had caused that harm when she learned that the pan was being marketed on television.”
You can read the decision here.
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.
The comment period for the Superior Court Rules Committee’s proposed amendments to Rules 9A and 9C is open until February 15. While most of the amendments to Rule 9A are merely intended to simplify and reorganize the rule, some would bring more substantive changes. For example, proposed changes to the summary-judgment process include limiting statements of material facts (SOFs) to 20 pages and prohibiting the inclusion of background facts or quotations from contracts, trusts, agreements, statutes, regulations, or rules in SOFs. Background facts, however, would be permitted in a memorandum of law in support of a summary judgment motion, and quotations from the other materials described above could be submitted in an addendum.