Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the trial judge's order setting aside the jury verdict and reinstated the original judgment in favor of Plaintiff, holding that the contract at issue in this appeal did not require an obligation that Plaintiff register as a securities broker-dealer under Massachusetts and Federal securities laws. Plaintiff sued Defendant alleging breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. A jury found Defendant liable on all claims and awarded treble damages. Thereafter, the judge set aside the jury's verdict in its entirety, concluding that Plaintiff had been required to register as a securities broker-dealer and that its failure to do so rendered its contract with Defendant invalid and unenforceable. The contract required Plaintiff to "source capital and structure financing transactions from agreed-upon investors and/or lenders" for Defendant. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the contract, on its face, did not require Plaintiff to "effect" transactions in "securities"; and (2) because Plaintiff's purported obligation to register as a broker-dealer was the sole basis for the judge's decision that Plaintiff could not maintain its breach of contract and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A claims, the judge's decision to set aside the jury verdict was erroneous. View "NTV Management, Inc. v. Lightship Global Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the county court denying, without a hearing, Appellant's petition for extraordinary relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, in which Appellant sought relief from a judgment entered in a small claims case in the municipal court, holding that the single justice neither erred nor abused his discretion by denying relief. In the small claims case, Appellant alleged that two corporations violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. The clerk-magistrate entered judgment for Defendants, concluding that Appellant had not proved that they were responsible for the damages he claimed. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Appellant's argument that the clerk-magistrate should have made detailed findings was unavailing because nothing in the statutes or rules governing small claims procedures required the clerk-magistrate to do so. View "Prince v. Obelisk, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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In this case concerning the legal relationship between the commercial custodian of three nondiscretionary IRAs and a named beneficiary of those accounts the Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part the decision of the superior court judge allowing UBS Financial Services, Inc.'s (UBS) motion for judgment on the pleadings as to all of Donna Aliberti's claims, holding that the facts alleged stated a claim that UBS's conduct violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9 (chapter 93A). Following the death of the IRAs' original account holder this dispute arose between Aliberti, a named IRA beneficiary, and UBS, as IRA custodian. Aliberti asserted claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of chapter 93A, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The superior court judge allowed UBS's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to all claims. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding (1) there was no plausible claim for breach of fiduciary duty because the custodian of a nondiscretionary IRA does not generally owe a fiduciary duty to a named beneficiary of that IRA; and (2) the interactions between the commercial custodian of a nondiscretionary IRA and a named beneficiary of that IRA occur in a business context within the meaning of chapter 93A, and the alleged injurious conduct of UBS plausibly constituted a chapter 93A violation. View "UBS Financial Services, Inc. v. Aliberti" on Justia Law

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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

Posted in: Consumer Law
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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

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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

Posted in: Consumer Law
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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

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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

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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

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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

Posted in: Consumer Law