Pre-Litigation Considerations

While most parties and their counsel are vigilant in keeping their communications confidential, so as to avoid any chance that the attorney-client privilege can be invaded, there are some situations in which a party makes a tactical decision to waive that privilege. When this happens, courts generally agree that such a waiver will extend to all communications on the same “subject matter” as the disclosed communications. Having said that, however, there do not appear to be any general guidelines or bright-line tests to determine what is meant by the subject matter of a communication. Rather, such analyses are done on a case-by-case basis.

While trying to determine what a court will define as the scope of the subject matter of a particular communication can be a bit like reading tea leaves, a related area that is even more fraught with peril is where a party decides to have counsel undertake an investigation and then publicizes some or all of a report generated from that investigation. Indeed, this is the exact, and unfortunate, position in which the Hamilton County (Tennessee) Board of Education found itself earlier this year.

In 2015, three members of a high school basketball team located in … Keep reading

Often, when settling a dispute, I include a general release that goes something like this:

Releasors hereby forever release and discharge Releasees from, and/or based on, any and all suits, etc. which Releasors ever had, now have or may in the future claim to have against Releasees, arising out of any acts or conduct that occurred from the beginning of time to the date of this Agreement.

Plainly, such a release is intended to “wipe the slate clean” and give the parties the comfort of knowing that neither can be sued by the other for any conduct that occurred up to that point in time – whether the other party knows about the conduct/claim or not.  As a recent case from the Superior Court, Fratea v. Unitrends, Inc., reminds us, however, a general release of this sort will not bar a former employee from pursuing a claim under the Massachusetts Wage Act.

When Michael Fratea left the employment of Unitrends, he executed a release in exchange for the payment of $1,875. Thereafter, Fratea filed suit against the company and two individuals, alleging a violation of the Wage Act because he was not paid overtime compensation. The defendants … Keep reading

While Rules 4.1(a) and 8.4(c) of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from making false statements to third parties and/or engaging in conduct that is dishonest, fraudulent or involves misrepresentations, attorneys (and/or their agents) can use deception to act as “testers” to determine, for instance, if people are engaging in discriminatory or other illegal conduct. Nevertheless, as the plaintiff’s attorneys in Leysock v. Forest Laboratories, Inc. recently found out, getting creative in seeking to dupe people into providing information to bolster a claim can come back to bite you – hard.

In Leysock, the plaintiff’s attorneys at Milberg LLP “engaged in an elaborate scheme of deceptive conduct in order to obtain information from physicians about their prescribing practices.” They did this to garner evidence for a qui tam action they wanted to pursue. More specifically, the attorneys hired a doctor to pretend that he was conducting research through online surveys submitted to other physicians, without disclosing that the information gathered would be used to bolster the allegations in a complaint.

After the defendants learned about this, they moved for sanctions and sought dismissal because the allegations in the Complaint hinged on information that had been culled … Keep reading

It generally is a defense to a breach of contract claim if the defendant proves that the plaintiff was the first one to materially breach the parties’ agreement. As a recent case from the Business Litigation Session of the Massachusetts Superior Court confirms, however, a plaintiff seeking to enforce a post-employment restrictive covenant can avoid falling victim to such a defense – if, that is, the company has a carefully crafted agreement is in place.… Keep reading

In Exercising Contractual Rights Can Be Risky If It Is for an Ulterior Purpose, I discussed how a business can subject itself to multiple damages and attorneys’ fees under Mass. General Laws, Chapter 93A if it attempts to enforce its contractual rights maliciously. In a recent, parallel decision, Robert and Ardis James Foundation v. Meyers, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a party can be liable for contract damages – even if it does not breach the terms of the agreement – if it acts in bad faith and deals unfairly towards its business partner.  … Keep reading

In 2014, I posted Carefully Craft Your Arbitration Clause if You Want Some, But not All, Disputes Arbitrated.  A decision a few months ago, Trustivo, LLC v. Anthem, Inc. is a reminder that if a contract has a broad arbitration provision, a party may have little chance of getting court intervention – even in situations  where the general validity of the contract is challenged – unless an appropriate carve-out is inserted.… Keep reading

M.G.L. c. 93A (i) prohibits deceptive or unfair acts or practices in trade or business, (ii) mandates that a defendant reimburse a prevailing plaintiff for its reasonable attorneys’ fees, and (iii) allows for the recovery of at least double and up to triple damages if the defendant acted knowingly or willfully. Thus, it is one of the most potent weapons in a business litigation arsenal. As I have written previously, leveraging another to settle a dispute can violate Chapter 93A, as can exercising valid contract rights, if the motivation in doing so is ulterior. While a mere breach of contract, without more, is not a violation of the statute, a recent case from the Massachusetts Superior Court presents a stark reminder that whether conduct is viewed as a “mere breach” or part of a deceptive or unfair course of conduct can be in the eye of the beholder.… Keep reading

As regular readers of this blog know, a day that is scheduled to be filled with relatively routine and non-controversial matters can get turned upside and require immediate action without any advance notice. One such situation occurs when information comes to light that an employee is unfit to continue in his or her current position and should be terminated. Even if in-house counsel and the business decision-makers have complete confidence that the information justifies termination, however, there is a risk associated with not giving the employee a chance to at least explain his or her actions.… 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