Although this blog focuses on BLS cases, a recent decision from the First Circuit merits attention here. The case highlights a key difference between federal and state practice on Chapter 93A claims, which are as commonly asserted in Massachusetts civil litigation as streets are jammed with traffic in Boston. In Full Spectrum Software, Inc. v. Forte Automation Systems, Inc., the First Circuit ruled that there is a right to a jury trial for Chapter 93A claims pending in federal court, at least in certain circumstances. The Supreme Judicial Court decided years ago in Nei v. Burley, in contrast, that no such right exists in connection with Chapter 93A claims pending in Massachusetts state courts.
The BLS’ new Administrative Directive 17-1, effective March 1, 2017, gives the litigation bar new guidance on venue in the BLS—and practical instruction on how to effect transfers either into or out of that court. While all these procedures were already embedded in the various statutes, rules, and cases, this new administrative directive consolidates this procedure in one place.
This summer, the Boston Bar Association hosted its annual “Business Litigation Session Year in Review.” The current BLS bench—Judges Sanders, Salinger, Kaplan, and Liebensperger—shared tips for attorneys practicing in the BLS. Here are four takeaways from that event:
Judge Kaplan reported the following question to the Massachusetts Appeals Court: “May a government agency invoke a termination for convenience clause contained in a procurement contract for the purchase of goods for the sole reason that it has learned of an opportunity to purchase the same goods at a lower price from another vendor?”
The question arose in a dispute between A.L. Prime Energy Consultant, Inc. (Prime) and the MBTA. In July 2015, Prime was awarded a two-year supply contract to provide the MBTA with Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel Fuel (ULSDF) after a public bidding process. A year later, the MBTA terminated the contract under the termination-for-convenience clause.
In IBEW Local No. 129 Ben. Fund v. Tucci., the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) affirmed a decision by Judge Leibensperger of the BLS dismissing a class action brought by EMC shareholders against EMC board members. The plaintiff alleged that the board members violated their fiduciary duties when they approved the sale of EMC to Dell for $64 billion. Affirming Judge Leibensperger’s decision, the SJC held that directors of a Massachusetts corporation generally have a unitary duty to act in the best interests of the corporation, rather than dual duties that run to both the corporation and its shareholders.
The Superior Court updated its Administrative Directive governing the BLS to broaden the scope of the types of cases that the BLS will preside over. This new directive signifies that the BLS is open to hearing almost any complex civil case—not just quintessential business cases.
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.
Key Issue: In G4S Technology LLC v. Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation, Judge Sanders faced the question of whether a state agency acting pursuant to a legislative mandate has standing to bring a claim under G.L. c. 93A, § 11.
Key Takeaway: The G4S decision follows a line of Massachusetts decisions holding that public entities acting under legislative mandates are not engaged in “trade or commerce” for purposes of Chapter 93A, even if the public entities are engaged in commercial transactions.
Assertions made solely on “information and belief” are insufficient support for a preliminary-injunction motion. That’s the key takeaway from Judge Salinger’s decision in Governo Law Firm LLC v. CMBG3 Law LLC.
The Governo Law Firm alleged that six former partners, who left to start another firm, misappropriated proprietary databases and electronic files. Judge Salinger denied the Governo Law Firm’s preliminary-injunction motion, which sought the return of the databases and files.
Judge Leibensperger decertified a class of current and former employees of Federal Management Co., Inc. (Federal), who alleged that Federal failed to pay them overtime, after post-certification discovery revealed that the named plaintiffs were not adequate class representatives.
Two years ago, the court certified a class of “all current and former Property Managers” employed by Federal from January 1, 2005 to the present under Mass. R. Civ. P. 23. While these Property Managers were paid a salary and annual bonus, they were not paid for overtime hours worked because Federal designated a Property Manager “as a bona fide executive, or administrative or professional person earning more than eighty dollars per week” in accordance with G.L.C. 151, s. 1A. Thus, Federal argued that these employees were exempt from receiving overtime pay.
- Senior Editor, Co-Chair, Business Litigation Practice Group