Key Takeaway: While Massachusetts courts have jurisdiction over internal church disputes involving church property, they must defer to the decision-making process of a hierarchical religious organization when a dispute is intertwined with religious doctrine.
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.
Judge Sanders denied a summary judgment motion that involved questions of fact—such as a defendant’s knowledge and reasonable reliance—that almost always require determination by the finder of fact. The case involved claims of violation of the Massachusetts Securities Act, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation (among others) arising out of defendants’ sale of common stock of a closely held corporation to plaintiffs. Judge Sanders denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, noting in particular the high burdens placed on defendants under the Securities Act and issues of fact involved in the fraud and negligent misrepresentation claims.
- Senior Editor, Co-Chair, Business Litigation Practice Group