Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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A school librarian having professional teacher status was suspended for conduct deemed to be unbecoming a teacher. An arbitrator considered the merits of the suspension. Applying a “just cause” standard, the arbitrator overturned the suspension, concluding that the school district failed to meet its burden of proof. A superior court judge confirmed the arbitrator’s award. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by reviewing the merits of the librarian’s twenty-day suspension and concluding that the school district had not met its burden of proving the alleged just cause for the suspension. View "Superintendent-Dir. of Assabet Valley Reg’l Sch. Dist. v. Speicher" on Justia Law

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The Lexington school district superintendent dismissed Mark Zagaeski, a Lexington high school teacher, from his position for conduct unbecoming a teacher. Zagaeski timely filed an appeal from the school district’s dismissal decision, which resulted in arbitration proceedings. The arbitrator (1) concluded that the school district carried its burden to show facts amounting to conduct unbecoming a teacher but that Zagaeski’s conduct only “nominally” constituted a basis for dismissal; and (2) reinstated Zagaeski as a teacher on the basis of “the best interests of the pupils.” The superior court confirmed the arbitrator’s award. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision of the superior court judge and vacated the arbitration award, holding that, under the facts of this case, the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority by awarding Zagaeski's reinstatement. View "Sch. Comm. of Lexington v. Zagaeski" on Justia Law

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When Rita Licata was transferred to a nursing facility operated by Defendant Rita’s son Salvatore signed an agreement with the facility to arbitrate disputes arising from Rita’s stay at the facility. Salvatore signed the agreement in the space provided for the resident’s “authorized representative.” Rita suffered personal injuries at the nursing facility resulting in her death. Salvator filed a complaint as administrator of Rita’s estate against Defendant for, inter alia, wrongful death and negligence. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. The motion judge denied the motion, concluding that Salvatore lacked authority to execute the arbitration agreement on Rita’s behalf. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Salvatore lacked authority to execute the agreement on Rita’s behalf; and (2) the arbitration agreement did not otherwise bind Rita’s estate. View "Licata v. GGNSC Malden Dexter LLC" on Justia Law

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Barbara Johnson, in her capacity as her husband Dalton’s health care agent, signed an agreement with a nursing facility to arbitrate disputes arising from Dalton’s stay at the facility. While a resident of the facility, Dalton suffered burns and later died. The administrators of Dalton’s estate, filed a complaint against nursing home defendants and others, arguing that Barbara, as Dalton’s health care agent, did not have the authority to execute the arbitration agreement on his behalf. A superior court judge entered an order compelling mediation or arbitration. The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court, holding that a health care agent’s decision to enter into an arbitration agreement is not a health care decision under the health care proxy statute, and therefore, an agreement to arbitrate all claims arising out of a principal’s stay in a nursing facility does not bind the principal where the agreement was entered into solely by a health care agent under the authority of a health care proxy. View "Johnson v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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Karl McGhee, a financial advisor at LPL Financial, acted as financial planner for Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a complaint against McGhee and LPL, asserting claims for, inter alia, violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. Defendants moved for an order compelling the parties to proceed to arbitration due to an arbitration agreement signed by Plaintiff. The motion judge denied the motion, concluding that none of Plaintiff's claims could be compelled to arbitration because claimants under chapter 93A, section 9 are not required to submit to arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) claims alleging an unfair or deceptive trade practice in violation of chapter 93A, section 9 must be referred to arbitration where the contract involves interstate commerce and the agreement is enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA); and (2) because Plaintiff and Defendants in this case entered into a valid contract whereby they agreed to settle all controversies related to Plaintiff's financial account by arbitration, and because the arbitration agreement was governed by the FAA, Defendants as a matter of law were entitled under the FAA to a stay of judicial proceedings and an order compelling arbitration. Remanded. View "McInnes v. LPL Fin., LLC" on Justia Law

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The City of Boston transferred a Boston police sergeant who served as a union representative due to what the City said were ongoing concerns about the officer's supervisory authority. The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation (union) sought to enforce a provision of its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the City, which prohibited the involuntary transfer of certain union representatives between stations or assignments. A grievance arbitrator concluded that the City had violated the CBA and awarded the officer damages and reinstatement to his original position. The superior court confirmed the award. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court's judgment and remanded the case for judgment vacating the award, holding that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in invalidating the officer's transfer, where assignment and transfer of officers within the Boston police department are nondelegable statutory powers of the Boston police commissioner. View "City of Boston v. Boston Police Superior Officers Fed'n" on Justia Law

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In Feeney II, the Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the superior court invalidating a class action waiver in the parties' arbitration agreement, holding that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) does not foreclose a court from invalidating an arbitration agreement that includes a class action waiver if it effectively denies the plaintiffs a remedy. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently issued an opinion in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant (Amex) holding that a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement is enforceable under the FAA even if a plaintiff proves that the class waiver effectively precludes the plaintiff from vindicating his federal statutory rights. The Massachusetts Supreme Court subsequently concluded that following Amex, the Court's analysis in Feeney II no longer comported with the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the FAA, holding instead that a class waiver may not be invalidated on the grounds that it effectively denies the plaintiffs a remedy. Remanded. View "Feeney v. Dell Inc. " on Justia Law

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A union and college were parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) containing a provision that the "granting or failure to grant tenure shall be arbitrable but any award is not binding." A professor at the college, who was a member of the union, was denied tenure and submitted a grievance to arbitration. The arbitrator found that the college violated the terms of the CBA and ordered that the professor be reinstated to his position. A superior court judge confirmed the arbitrator's award. The appeals court reversed, holding that the arbitrator's award was not binding on the college pursuant to the CBA, and therefore, the judge erred in confirming that arbitrator's award. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the terms of the CBA, the college and the union did not agree to binding arbitration of a tenure denial determination and therefore did not agree to binding arbitration of the grievance in this case; and (2) because the arbitrator's award was nonbinding, the union was not entitled to have the award judicially confirmed and enforced. View "Mass. Cmty. Coll. Council v. Mass. Bd. of Higher Educ." on Justia Law

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This appeal was the last chapter in a case with a "long and tortuous procedural history." The sheriff of Suffolk County brought this appeal after Plaintiff, a jail officer employed by the sheriff, filed an action to enforce an arbitrator's award of back pay to Plaintiff after a finding that Plaintiff was wrongfully discharged. The sheriff appealed from the superior court ruling that Plaintiff had no duty to mitigate his damages by seeking comparable employment. The union for the jail officers and employees of the county, on behalf of Plaintiff, cross appealed from the judge's decision not to assess statutory postjudgment interest on the arbitrator's award. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff had a duty to mitigate his damages, but the sheriff waived this issue by failing to raise it earlier in the proceedings; and (2) the superior court judge did not err in deciding not to assess postjudgment interest on sovereign immunity grounds. View "Sheriff of Suffolk County v. Jail Officers & Employees of Suffolk County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were individuals who entered into contracts with Defendants for the provision of janitorial services to third-party customers. Plaintiffs filed this putative class action, alleging that Defendants violated the Massachusetts Wage Act. Defendants moved to stay the court proceedings pending arbitration according to the terms of the arbitration clause contained in the parties' franchise agreements. The superior court denied the motion, concluding that the arbitration clause was unenforceable as set forth in Feeny v. Dell Inc. (Feeney I). After the United States Supreme Court decided AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, Defendants sought appellate review, which the Supreme Court granted. The Supreme Court reversed the order invalidating the arbitration in light of its interpretation of Conception and its impact on Feeney I, as set forth in Feeney II, holding (1) Massachusetts public policy in favor of class proceedings in certain contexts may no longer serve, in and of itself, as grounds to invalidate a class waiver in an arbitration agreement; and (2) in this case, Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate they lacked a practical means to pursue their claims on an individual basis. View "Machado v. System4 LLC" on Justia Law