Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Armata v. Target Corp.
At issue was whether Title 940 Code Mass. Regs. 7.04(1)(f) (the regulation), implementing Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 93A, 2, which prohibits creditors from contacting a debtor via telephone, either in person or via text messaging or recorded audio message, in excess of two communications in each seven-day period, applies to creditors who use automatic dialing services or voluntarily decide not to leave voicemail messages. Creditors are exempt under the regulation when they are “truly unable to reach the debtor or to leave a message for the debtor.” Plaintiff commenced this action alleging that Defendant violated the regulation by telephoning her more than two times in a seven-day period in order to collect a debt. Defendants maintained that they did not “initiate” any communications within the meaning of the regulation because they telephoned Plaintiff with an automatic dialing device and that their telephone calls did not constitute “communications” because Defendants did not leave voicemail messages. A superior court judge granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that Defendants were not exempt from the regulation. View "Armata v. Target Corp." on Justia Law
Williams v. American Honda Finance Corp.
At issue was how to calculate “fair market value” of a repossessed automobile under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 255B, 20 B and the notices that are required with respect to this calculation. Under section 20B, a creditor who repossesses and sells a vehicle is entitled to recover form the debt the deficiency that remains after deducting the “fair market value” of the vehicle from the debtor’s unpaid balance. Plaintiff in this case alleged that the fair market value of her repossessed automobile was the fair market retail value of the automobile, rather than the amount paid at an auction open to licensed dealers. The federal district court granted summary judgment to American Honda Finance Corporation (Honda). The court of appeals certified to the Supreme Judicial Court three questions. The Court answered (1) the ultimate determination of fair market value is left to the courts in contested cases, taking into account both creditor and debtor interests, and the means, methods, and markets used to sell the vehicle; and (2) the resale and postsale notices provided to the debtor must expressly describe the deficiency as the difference between the amount owed on the loan and the fair market value of the vehicle. View "Williams v. American Honda Finance Corp." on Justia Law
Dorrian v. LVNV Funding, LLC
At issue was the definition of “debt collector” under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93, 24, specifically its application to the statute’s licensing requirement. Plaintiffs individually filed suit against Defendant, alleging unlicensed debt collection, violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, and unjust enrichment. A superior court judge consolidated the cases and certified them as a class action. The judge then concluded (1) Defendant violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93, 24A because it operated as a debt collector without a license; and (2) Defendant met the exemption from liability in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 3 because the division of banks of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation had permitted Defendant to operate without a license. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that Defendant was not a debt collector under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93, 24 because neither of the statute’s two separate definitions of “debt collector” applied to Defendant. View "Dorrian v. LVNV Funding, LLC" on Justia Law
Rafferty v. Merck & Co., Inc.
A plaintiff who alleges that he was injured from his use of a generic drug because of a failure to warn of the drug’s side effects cannot bring a common-law general negligence claim against the brand-name manufacturer that created the warning label. The plaintiff, however, may bring a common-law recklessness claim against the brand-name manufacturer if it intentionally failed to update the label on its drug, knowing or having reason to know of an unreasonable risk of death or grave bodily injury associated with its use. Further, a plaintiff who is injured by a generic drug due to a failure to warn cannot bring a claim under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9 against a brand-name manufacturer that did not advertise, offer to sell, or sell that drug because such failure did not occur in the conduct of “trade or commerce” as defined in section 1(b). In the instant case, the trial judge dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against Merck & Co, Inc. asserting negligence for failure to warn and a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order dismissing Plaintiff’s common-law claim and remanded with instructions that Plaintiff be granted leave to amend his complaint and affirmed the order dismissing Plaintiff’s chapter 93A claim. View "Rafferty v. Merck & Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Caira v. Zurich American Insurance Co.
Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Zurich American Insurance Co. committed unfair claim settlement practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D, 3(9)(f) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 2. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that Zurich violated these statutory provisions when it conditioned the payment of its primary insurance policy limit on a release of all claims against its insureds, notwithstanding the availability of excess insurance. The superior court judge concluded that Zurich was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it did not engage in unfair claim settlement practices. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Zurich did not engage in unfair claim settlement practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D, 3(9)(f) and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 2. View "Caira v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Anderson v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh Pa.
Odin Anderson, his wife, and his daughter (collectively, Plaintiffs) filed personal injury action for injuries Odin suffered after being struck by a bus owned by Partners Healthcare Systems that was being driven by one of its employees. Plaintiffs then filed a separate action against Partner’s insurers and claims representatives. A jury awarded Odin $2,961,000 in damages in the personal injury action and awarded Odin’s wife and daughter $110,000 each. At a subsequent jury-waived trial, a judge found that the insurers and claims representatives violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D by their misconduct. The judge awarded Plaintiffs treble damages using as the “amount of the judgment” to be multiplied the combined amount of the underlying tort judgment and the accrued postjudgment interest on that judgment. The appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that, in a case where the amount of actual damages to be multiplied due to a wilful or knowing violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A or Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D are based on the amount of an underlying judgment, that amount does not include postjudgment interest. View "Anderson v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh Pa." on Justia Law
Moronta v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC
Plaintiff brought this action against Nationstar Mortgage, LLC and Fremont Investment and Loan (collectively, Defendants) alleging that Defendants violated his rights under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. The Appeals Court reversed, concluding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff’s chapter 93A claim. Nationstar appealed, arguing that Plaintiff’s claim was barred because he failed to serve a demand letter. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the Appeals Court, holding that, if a defendant keeps assets in the Commonwealth but does not maintain a place of business in the Commonwealth, the plaintiff need not serve a demand letter. View "Moronta v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC" on Justia Law
Limoliner, Inc. v. Dattco, Inc.
Limoliner Inc., which owned and operated a fleet of luxury motor coaches, hired Dattco, Inc. to perform repair work on one of those vehicles. While Dattco recorded most of those requests in writing, Dattco neglected to write down Limoliner’s verbal request to repair one of the vehicle’s important electrical components. When Dattco failed to make any repairs to that component, Limoliner commenced this action, alleging, inter alia, that Dattco violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 2(a), as interpreted by 940 Code Mass. Regs. 5.05(2), by failing to record Limoliner’s request in writing. Dattco removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Following a jury-waived trial, a magistrate judge found for Dattco on Limoliner’s regulatory claim under 940 Code Mass. Regs. 5.05, concluding that the provision at issue applies only to consumer transactions and not to transactions where the customer is another business. Limoliner appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified a question regarding the issue to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that 940 Code Mass. Regs. 5.05 does apply to transactions in which the customer is a business entity. View "Limoliner, Inc. v. Dattco, Inc." on Justia Law
Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson
When Samantha Reckis was seven years old, she developed toxic epidermal necrolysis, a life-threatening skin disorder, after receiving multiple doses of Children’s Motrin, an over-the-counter medication with ibuprofen as its active ingredient. Plaintiffs, Samantha and her parents, sued the manufacturer and marketer of Children’s Motrin and its parent company, alleging that Samantha developed TEN as a result of being exposed to ibuprofen in the Children’s Motrin and that the warning label on the medication’s bottle rendered the product defective because it failed to warn consumers about the serious risk of developing a life-threatening disease from it. A jury found in favor of Plaintiffs and awarded Samantha a total of $50 million in compensatory damages and each of Samantha’s parents $6.5 million for loss of consortium. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs’ claim of failure to warn was not preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; (2) a pharmacologist who offered the causation evidence essential to Plaintiffs’ case was qualified to testify as to specific medical causation, and the testimony was reliable and admissible; and (3) the damages awarded to each of the plaintiffs were not grossly excessive or unsupported by the record. View "Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co.
Plaintiffs, twelve residential and business customers of Defendant Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Company who lost power during a major ice storm, filed suit on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated, asserting claims of gross negligence and violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. Plaintiffs moved to certify a class, and the parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ chapter 93A claims. In their motion for partial summary judgment, Plaintiffs sought issue preclusive effect of findings made by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) in two previous administrative adjudications related to Defendant’s conduct during the storm. The superior court judge (1) denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification; and (2) primarily denied the motions for summary judgment after applying offensive issue preclusion to factual findings made by the DPU. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the judge did not abuse his discretion in declining to certify a class and in applying issue preclusion to facts found after evidentiary hearings at the DPU. View "Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co." on Justia Law