Jurisdiction, Venue and Choice of Law

When Jeremy Hernandez, a California resident, went to work for Oxford Global Resources, a Massachusetts company, in 2013, he signed a non-competition agreement. In 2016, Hernandez resigned from Oxford and, apparently unbeknownst to Oxford, began working for one of its competitors. Several months later, Oxford received an anonymous tip that Hernandez had taken Oxford’s confidential, client information and was using it to solicit customers for his new employer. Shortly thereafter, Oxford sued Hernandez in the Superior Court in Massachusetts based on a forum selection clause stating:

All suits, proceedings and other actions relating to, arising out of or in connection with this Agreement will be submitted to the in personam jurisdiction of … the courts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts …. Venue for all such suits, proceedings and other actions will be in Massachusetts. Employee hereby waives any claims against or objections to such in personam jurisdiction and venue. [Emphasis added]

Notwithstanding the foregoing language, Hernandez moved to dismiss Oxford’s complaint on the grounds of forum non conveniens and the Superior Court allowed that motion. Oxford appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts took the case on its own initiative (by-passing the Appeals Court). Surprisingly, the SJC … Keep reading

As I discussed in a 2015 blog post, the language in a forum selection clause is critical if you want to ensure that potential litigation takes place on your “home court.” Indeed, as the defendants in Genis v. Campbell recently learned, having a less than all-encompassing and precise forum selection clause can lead to unintended results.

Alfred Genis is a Massachusetts resident and a diamond laboratory scientist. In 2013, Genis met Martin Campbell, who, along with his brother, David, owned Pure Crystal, a company involved in growing laboratory diamonds. In October of that year, the three individuals executed what would later be referred to as the “October 2013 Agreement.” That Agreement indicated that Genis would be granted 25% equity in Pure Crystal and also would receive equity in two new companies to be formed. In that same month, the Campbell brothers formed the first of those companies, Kimberlite Applied Science, LLC, and Genis executed an “Employment Agreement” and a “License Agreement” with Kimberlite.

By 2017, the relationship between Genis and the Campbells had broken down, and Genis filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court, alleging that his intellectual property had been misappropriated and that he had not been granted … Keep reading

As most attorneys know, a privileged communication only can be waived by the client, and when the client is an individual, it is obvious who controls that ability to waive. Things become murkier, however, when the client is a company. While controlling the privilege generally resides with the board of directors and/or those controlling the business entity, who can access privileged communications when a former senior manager becomes adverse to the company is far less clear.

Until the end of 2016, John Mooney was the CEO of Pri-Med LLC, and John Wheelock was its senior vice president in charge of sales. Mooney and Wheelock also each owned 5% equity in Pri-Med and were entitled to have that equity repurchased at the appraised value of the company as of December 31, 2016. When the buy-out time arrived, however, Mooney and Wheelock claimed that the company and various individuals took steps to depress Pri-Med’s value so as to decrease the amount they would be paid.

Litigation ensued, and one of the items requested during discovery was communications amongst the defendants concerning Pri-Med’s 2015 and 2016 valuation. The defendants refused to produce those communications, however, claiming that they were protected from disclosure … Keep reading

When two parties reside and/or conduct business in different states, any agreement between them almost always has a choice of law provision. Typically, such a clause is as simple as: “The Parties agree that this Contract shall be governed and construed in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” As the Superior Court held earlier this month in Oxford Global Resources, LLC v. Hernandez, however, such simple and straight-forward language is no guaranty that a court will abide by it.

Oxford is a Delaware corporation and claims to have its principal place of business in Beverly, Massachusetts. Jeremy Hernandez is a California resident and was hired by Oxford to work in the company’s California office. As part of the hiring process, Hernandez was required to sign Oxford’s Protective Covenants Agreement, which included (i) non-compete and non-solicitation covenants; and (ii) a provision stating that the Agreement was governed by Massachusetts law.

Oxford later brought suit against Hernandez, alleging that he breached the Agreement by using information regarding Oxford’s customers to solicit them on behalf of a competitor. Hernandez countered by moving to dismiss, and, in that connection, he argued that the Court should construe the Agreement in … Keep reading

A couple of words here or there in a contract can make a huge difference, particularly when those words relate to what happens if there is a breach or some other dispute between the parties. This is something that the parties in Family Endowment Partners, L.P. v. Sutow recently learned – to the tune of millions of dollars.… Keep reading

Not spelling out in your agreements, even in informal agreements, where disputes can be resolved and what law will govern them can lead to some unhappy results. That is exactly the position that United Excel Corporation and its president, Ky Hornbaker, now find themselves.… Keep reading

While no in-house attorney drafting a business contract wants to focus on being in litigation with her business partner, as I discussed in a 2013 blog post, thinking like a litigator at the drafting stage is critical in order to avoid potential surprises. A good example of this comes in the context of crafting a forum selection clause that truly achieves your objectives.… Keep reading

Two weeks ago, I participated on a panel for a webinar on liquidated damages with three other panelists from New Jersey, Florida and Texas. In preparing with the other panelists, I was surprised to learn that while there are many common threads running through the law of liquidated damages across the country, there also are some startling differences depending upon which jurisdiction’s law controls.… Keep reading

It is not unusual for a plaintiff to have the ability to choose from at least two states when deciding the venue of a litigation. In such situations, many automatically choose to file suit in their home state, without giving much thought to potential advantages or disadvantages beyond having a home field advantage and/or forcing their adversary to travel long-distance.  While the substantive law applicable to an underlying dispute often is the same no matter where suit is brought (although even this is far from a hard and fast rule), below are three reasons why Massachusetts might be an attractive choice for your next lawsuit.… Keep reading

In Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Weintraub, the United States Supreme Court noted that:

[W]hen control of a corporation passes to new management, the authority to assert and waive the corporation’s attorney-client privilege passes as well. New managers installed as a result of a takeover, merger, loss of confidence by shareholders, or simply normal succession, may waive the attorney-client privilege with respect to communications made by former officers and directors. Displaced managers may not assert the privilege over the wishes of current managers, even as to statements that the former might have made to counsel concerning matters within the scope of their corporate duties. [Emphasis added.]

While the foregoing may not seem too surprising to some, what if I told you that the new owners of a business can waive the privilege with respect to communications that the former owners had with company counsel solely to use those communications as evidence against the former owners in litigation? Well, that is exactly what the Delaware Court of Chancery recently allowed to happen in Great Hill Equity Partners v. Sig Growth Equity Fund, LLP.… Keep reading