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.
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.
Earlier this year, the Social Law Library hosted the “2018 Business Litigation Year in Review.” The presenters, including BLS Judge Kenneth W. Salinger, offered commentary on some recent BLS decisions.
In Bay Colony, Judge Salinger denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss a contract claim as time barred even though one defendant (AMB) had sent a letter to the plaintiffs more than six years earlier disputing the existence of a binding agreement between the parties.
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- Senior Editor, Co-Chair, Business Litigation Practice Group