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 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.
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.”
Last month, the Social Law Library sponsored the Business Litigation Session 2021 Year in Review. The panel included Judge Kenneth Salinger, the BLS Administrative Justice, as well as Michael Tuteur and Andrew Yost, attorneys at Foley & Lardner LLP.
It was another eventful year at the BLS, which included Judge Green replacing Judge Kaplan in the BLS1. As 2020 concludes, check out our top five widely read posts:
- Facebook Ordered to Turn Over Internal Investigation Documents to Massachusetts Attorney General: Judge Davis of the BLS ordered Facebook to produce documents to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (AG). The AG obtained the order while investigating Facebook’s policies and protections related to user data.
- Community Health Systems Affiliate Found Subject to Personal Jurisdiction in Massachusetts: In Steward Health Care System v. CHSPSC, Judge Sanders found that CHSPSC, an affiliate of Community Health Systems (CHS), is subject to personal jurisdiction in Massachusetts for claims made under transition-services agreement (TSAs) signed along with an asset-purchase agreement (APA).
- lululemon’s Motion to Dismiss Eviction Case Denied: In CWB Retail Limited Partnership v. Lululemon USA, Inc., lululemon moved to dismiss a summary-process action brought by its landlord, CWB Retail Limited Partnership.
- Comcast Prevails in Dispute over Interpretation of Commercial Lease: Maynard Industrial Properties Associates Trust (MIPA), a commercial landlord, sued Comcast of Massachusetts III, Inc. (Comcast). The dispute focused on the amount Comcast would owe under an extension of the amended lease.
- John J. Donovan Loses Again: Court Rules that Award in Derivative Action be Distributed Based on Shareholders’ Investment to Avoid Windfall to Disloyal Fiduciary: 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.
In Hershey v. Mount Vernon Partners, LLC, Judge Green faced dueling motions to dismiss in a dispute arising from the purchase of an “ultra-luxury” condominium in Beacon Hill. Judge Green granted Brett Hershey’s motion, in part, dismissing counterclaims for interference with business relations and violation of the Massachusetts Wiretap Act brought by the defendants, Mount Vernon Partners, LLC, Marcel D. Safar, Chevron Partners, LLC and Chevron Builders, LLC. Judge Green also denied most of the defendants’ motion to dismiss, allowing all but one of Hershey’s claims (a claim against Safar in his individual capacity) to proceed.
In Crotty v. Continuum Energy Technologies, Judge Salinger granted Thomas Crotty’s special motion to dismiss counterclaims for tortious interference brought by Continuum Energy Technologies (CET) and John Preston under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute.
This is the latest litigation chapter in "the unravelling of a lengthy business relationship" between CET’s co-founders, John Preston and Christopher Nagel, after Nagel resigned in 2014 to form a competing business, IDL Development, Inc. (IDL). Preston and CET brought claims against Nagel and IDL alleging that Nagel had utilized and exploited CET’s proprietary information without a license. In March 2018, the parties entered into settlement and licensing agreements, under which CET licensed certain intellectual property to IDL. Crotty had participated in these settlement negotiations on behalf of IDL as its lead investor. IDL subsequently defaulted on its payment obligations and declared bankruptcy.
In Steward Health Care System v. CHSPSC, Judge Sanders found that CHSPSC, an affiliate of Community Health Systems (CHS), is subject to personal jurisdiction in Massachusetts for claims made under transition-services agreement (TSAs) signed along with an asset-purchase agreement (APA).
Under the APA between Steward Health Care System LLC (Steward) and CHSPSC, Steward agreed to purchase eight hospitals outside Massachusetts. Under the TSAs between the same parties, CHSPSC agreed to provide services to facilitate the transition of the hospitals.
In Renova Partners v. Michael Singer and Greenlight Development Partners, Judge Sanders granted Greenlight’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction because, among other things, Greenlight was “not even in existence” when the allegedly tortious acts occurred.
Judge Davis’s recent denial of an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss provides helpful guidance on how to distinguish between counterclaims used as solely as a “cudgel” and meritorious claims in breach of contract cases. The ruling also underscores the importance of drafting clear release language in a settlement agreement.
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- Senior Editor, Co-Chair, Business Litigation Practice Group