Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Class Action
Calixto v. Coughlin
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of employees’ (Employees) putative class action lawsuit brought against the corporate officers (Officers) of a ISIS Parenting, Inc. (Company), holding that the superior court judge properly granted the Officers’ motion to dismiss. After the Company abruptly ceased operations and terminated its entire workforce, the Employees brought a class action lawsuit against the Company in federal court alleging a violation of the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, 29 U.S.C. 2101-2109 (WARN Act). After receiving a nearly $2 million default judgment, the Employees brought a putative class action lawsuit against the Officers in state court under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148 (Wage Act), alleging (1) the WARN Act damages constituted wrongfully withheld “earned wages” for which the Officers were liable; and (2) the Officers committed a breach of fiduciary duties owed to the Company by allowing the Company to violate the WARN Act. The superior court granted the Officers’ motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the Employees’ complaint was properly dismissed because (1) WARN Act damages are not “earned wages” under the Wage Act; and (2) the Employees did not assert a viable claim for breach of fiduciary duties. View "Calixto v. Coughlin" on Justia Law
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 129 Benefit Fund v. Tucci
In these consolidated cases, shareholders of a publicly traded corporation (Plaintiffs) filed a complaint claiming that a merger transaction proposed by the board of directors would result in the effective sale of the corporation for an inadequate price. The superior court allowed Defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, concluding that the board owed no fiduciary duty directly to the shareholders and that the action was necessarily derivative. At issue on appeal was whether Plaintiffs must bring their claims against the members of the corporation’s board of directors as a derivative action on behalf of the corporation or may bring it directly on their own behalf. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the injury claimed by Plaintiffs, and the alleged wrong causing it, fit squarely within the framework of a derivative action; and (2) Plaintiffs’ claim was properly dismissed because they did not bring their claim as a derivative action. View "International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 129 Benefit Fund v. Tucci" on Justia Law
Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction
Plaintiffs in this putative class action were inmates serving criminal sentences in various Massachusetts prison facilities who had, for varying lengths of time, been placed in a special management unit (SMU) in nondisciplinary administrative segregation. Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that their placements in the SMUs violated their constitutional rights to due process, as well as regulations of the Department of Correction. Plaintiffs sought to represent a class of similarly situated prisoners confined in SMUs. A judge denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and, relying on the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in LaChance v. Commissioner of Correction, dismissed Plaintiffs’ complaint. The Appeals Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ appeal as moot, as, by then, no named plaintiffs remained in SMUs. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) in light of the class action allegations in Plaintiffs’ complaint, the appeal was not moot; and (2) LaChance did not resolve the merits of all of Plaintiffs’ claims. Remanded. View "Cantell v. Commissioner of Correction" on Justia Law
Commonwealth v. Bigelow
After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of two counts of criminal harassment. The convictions were based on five letters that Defendant wrote and sent to Michael and Susan Costello after a local election in which Michael had been elected as a town selectman. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed Defendant’s conviction of criminal harassment of Michael and vacated Defendant’s conviction of criminal harassment of Susan and remanded for a new trial on that count, holding (1) in light of First Amendment constitutional protections afforded to political speech and the lack of evidence of serious alarm of Michael’s part, the evidence was not sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction of criminal harassment of Michael; and (2) the speech on which the complaint of criminal harassment of Susan is premised might be found to qualify as fitting within a constitutionally unprotected category of speech that may be subject to prosecution as a form of criminal harassment. View "Commonwealth v. Bigelow" on Justia Law
Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co.
Plaintiffs lost electric power during a major winter ice storm in 2008. Plaintiffs sued Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Company (FG&E) and sought class certification for themselves and other residential and business customers of FG&E who were injured by FG&E’s allegedly inadequate preparation for and response to the storm. The superior court judge denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of class certification, concluding that the asserted injuries suffered by the class members were too dissimilar. Plaintiffs then filed a renewed motion for class certification premised on an alternate theory of injury. Specifically, Plaintiffs contended that they suffered economic injury by overpaying for a level of emergency preparedness that FG&E deceptively failed to provide. The superior court judge certified two classes of FG&E customers and reported the class certification order. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order certifying the class, holding that, under the circumstances, Plaintiffs’ assertion of overpayment for FG&E’s services did not set forth a cognizable injury under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9(1) and 11 and therefore did not support class certification pursuant to the statute. View "Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co." on Justia Law
Commonwealth v. Lucas
Defendant was charged with violating Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 56, 42, which criminalizes certain false statements about political candidates or questions submitted to voters, after her political action committee published brochures criticizing a candidate for public office. Defendant filed a petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking relief from the criminal complaint on the ground that section 42 is unconstitutional. The Supreme Judicial Court granted the requested relief, holding (1) section 42 is inconsistent with the fundamental right of free speech enshrined in article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and is, therefore, invalid; and (2) accordingly, the criminal complaint charging Defendant with violating section 42 must be dismissed. View "Commonwealth v. Lucas" on Justia Law
Machado v. System4 LLC
A franchisee janitorial worker, on behalf of himself and other similarly situated individuals, filed a complaint against System4 LLC, a master franchisor, and NECCS, Inc., a regional subfranchisor, alleging, among other claims, breach of contract, misclassification as independent contractors in their franchise agreements, and rescission of the franchise agreements. The franchise agreements, signed only by Plaintiffs and NEECS, required the franchisees to arbitrate virtually all disputes. Defendants, citing the arbitration clause in the franchise agreement, moved to stay the court proceedings pending arbitration. The judge concluded that because System4 was not a nonsignatory to the agreements, Plaintiffs could proceed to litigate their claims against System4 in court. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that, by reason of equitable estoppel, System4 could compel Plaintiffs to arbitrate their substantive claims in accordance with the arbitration provision in Plaintiffs’ franchise agreements. Remanded. View "Machado v. System4 LLC" on Justia Law
Moe v. Sex Offender Registry Bd.
At issue in this case were amendments to the Sex Offender Registry Law that the Governor signed into law on July 12, 2013, including amendments that would require the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) to publish on the Internet information contained in the sex offender registry regarding individuals given a level two or three classification. On July 5, 2013, Plaintiffs, as putative representatives of a class of persons presently and prospectively classified as level two sex offenders, filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking an injunction barring SORB from publishing registry information on the Internet of the class of level two offenders. The Supreme Judicial Court declared unconstitutional the retroactive application of the amendments to the extent they would require the Internet publication of the registry information of individuals who were finally classified as level two sex offenders on or before July 12, 2013 but noted that SORB was allowed to publish on the Internet the registry information of any individual who was given a final classification as a level two sex offender after July 12, 2013. View "Moe v. Sex Offender Registry Bd." on Justia Law
Feeney v. Dell Inc.
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
Machado v. System4 LLC
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