I have written a number of blog posts on liquidated damages over the years, and one of the foundational points under Massachusetts law is that they will be enforceable if, but only if, at the time the contract is executed:
- It would be difficult to determine the damages that would accrue if the contemplated breach were to occur; and
- The liquidated amount designated in the contract is a reasonable estimate of the actual damages that a party would suffer if the breach were to occur.
In Cummings Properties v. Hines, the Supreme Judicial Court emphatically re-affirmed Massachusetts’s commitment to this “single look” doctrine.
In 2016, Cummings Properties entered into a five-year lease with MCO, Inc., and Darryl Hines, MCO’s sole officer and director, signed on as guarantor. The lease provided that if MCO defaulted, Cummings could terminate and the “entire balance of rent due . . . immediately [would] become due and payable as liquidated damages, since both parties agree that such amount is a reasonable estimate of the actual damages likely to result from such breach.”
Within only a few months of signing the lease, MCO defaulted on its payment obligations and was evicted. One … Keep reading
Most people expect that by signing a contract they are going to be bound by it absent special circumstances. But do situations where the signatory is unsophisticated and/or doesn’t even speak the language in which the contract is written qualify as such special circumstances? As the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently confirmed in Lopez Rivera v. Stetson, the answer to that question is a resounding No!
Carlos Lopez Rivera was awaiting surgery and signed a form stating that any disputes regarding the surgery would be subject to arbitration. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Lopez Rivera later filed a malpractice action against Steven Stetson in the Massachusetts Superior Court. Stetson moved to dismiss based on the arbitration clause in the form Lopez Rivera signed, but Lopez Reiver countered that because he did not speak English and no one translated the form to him, his supposed agreement to arbitrate was invalid based on the doctrines of fraud, mistake and unconscionability.
The Superior Court agreed with Lopez Rivera, noting that he did not speak English and no translation of the form was provided to him. Stetson appealed that ruling, and the Appeals Court acknowledged that a party who signs a contract can avoid his … Keep reading
A recent decision from the Superior Court of Massachusetts in MIM Mass Convertible Note v. MIM Management, LLC reminded me of other posts I have written warning that a seemingly clear choice of law provision is not always clear enough.
In MIM Mass Convertible Note, the parties had a business relationship memorialized by a promissory note and Loan Agreement, paragraph 23 of which stated that “The laws of [South Carolina] shall govern in the interpretation, enforcement, and all other aspects of the obligations and duties created under this Agreement and all other instruments referred to in this Agreement.” Sounds pretty clear and all-encompassing, right…?
The relationship between the parties eventually soured, and the plaintiff filed suit. The defendant answered, and filed counterclaims, including a counterclaim for deceptive and unfair conduct in violation of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter. 93A.
The plaintiff moved to dismiss the Chapter 93A counterclaim, arguing that the choice of law provision in the Loan Agreement limited claims to those available under South Carolina law, and Chapter 93A was a Massachusetts statute. In addressing that motion, the Superior Court emphasized that the choice of law provision in the Loan Agreement was self-limiting and only … Keep reading
No company wants to be sued by its current or former employees, particularly for discrimination claims. Even if you prevail, litigating such claims inevitably exposes you to public stigma and internal discord. In such situations, an early “procedural victory” can be worth much more than the mere cost savings of legal fees. So, wouldn’t it be nice if you could do something now to either decrease the chance of such a suit being filed and/or increase the chance of obtaining a quick, procedural victory if litigation does ensue? As a recent decision in the Federal District Court, Morales v. FedEx, makes clear, a contractual “statute of limitations provision” may allow your company to achieve these objectives.
Hector Morales began working for Federal Express in 2015 and was terminated on July 31, 2017. In May 2018, Morales filed a claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging that his termination was based on racial discrimination and was retaliatory. In July of 2020, Morales filed a complaint in the Federal District Court, alleging, among other things, that FedEx had discriminated against him in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 1981.
Eventually, FedEx moved for summary judgment on the § 1981 claim … Keep reading
As a follow up to my post a few weeks ago on McLaren Macomb, the NLRB has issued new Guidance of which in-house counsel should take note.
- The McLaren Macomb decision is retroactive. This means that any severance agreement entered into by an employee prior to February 21, 2023, which violates the McLaren Macomb decision, is now unlawful.
- An unlawful severance agreement is a “continuing violation” of the Act, such that the six-month statute of limitations does not prohibit an employee from bringing a claim based upon a past severance agreement entered into over six months ago.
- The decision applies to current and former non-supervisory employees, which means in-house counsel must consider whether past and current severance agreements are lawful.
- Employees cannot waive their right to lawful confidentiality and/or non-disparagement clauses.
- An employee need not execute a settlement agreement for there to be a violation; the Board will find a violation of the Act if an unlawful severance agreement is offered, which could result in equitable and economic remedies in favor of the impacted employee.
- The McLaren Macomb decision impacts any employer communication to employees that tends to interfere, restrain, or coerce an employee’s Section 7 rights (i.e.,
… Keep reading
Company leaders—whether the GC, chief executive, or some other officer in charge—often call their outside counsel when a formal claim is made against them, or a dispute appears headed toward formal litigation. What business leaders often don’t think to do is put their insurance carrier on notice as soon as a claim is made. As a recent District of Massachusetts decision related to the heavily publicized Harvard affirmative action lawsuit reinforces, failing to alert your insurance carrier of a claim can have severe consequences.
For Harvard, these consequences materialized as a $15 million loss.
In November 2014, Harvard was sued in connection with rejecting a group of anonymous Asian American students from admission to the university. Still, the school did not provide its insurance carrier, Zurich, a notice of the claim until May 23, 2017. Zurich then denied coverage, relying on its “claims-made” policy, which requires that any claims asserted in the policy period be reported to Zurich no later than 90 days after the expiration of the policy period, i.e., by January 30, 2016. Significantly, that coverage would have applied to the $15 million in legal fees Harvard incurred to defend the lawsuit.
Incredulous by … Keep reading
As discussed in a blog post last year, Uber learned the hard way that with online agreements, it can take more than a simple provision stating “all disputes must be arbitrated” to ensure that your customers cannot sue you in a court of law. In a recent decision issued by the Massachusetts Superior Court (Good v. Uber Technologies, 2022 WL 10448746), Uber was foiled again – even though it had initiated what it must have thought were fool-proof protocols to prevent it from being hauled into court.
William Good had been an Uber user since August 13, 2013, and on April 25, 2021, he tried to order a ride but was blocked by a pop-up message stating: “We’ve updated our terms.” The pop-up message went on to say: “We encourage you to read our updated in Terms in full.” Among those terms was a provision stating that Uber’s customers were “required to resolve any claim against Uber … in arbitration.”
While I can’t remember anything specific from my 1-L Contracts class, I’m sure that is where I first was exposed to the concept that an integration clause could prevent a party to a written contract from claiming that other terms had been agreed to orally but, for some reason, had not been memorialized in the document. As the First Circuit recently discussed in Guldseth v. Family Medicine Associates, LLC, however, integration clauses can come in different shapes and sizes. As an initial matter, there is the question of whether the clause results in the contract being fully integrated or only partially integrated:
By fully integrated, we mean a statement which the parties have adopted as a complete and exclusive expression of their agreement. Compare that to [a] partially integrated agreement, which means the agreement is intended as a final expression of one or more terms, but not as the complete and exclusive expression of all terms to which the parties agreed. The degree of integration in turn dictates the degree to which earlier agreements are discharged by the later-formed agreement [and] whether an agreement is fully integrated is … an issue of fact.”
Indeed, because the scope … Keep reading
Under the so-called “American Rule,” a party that prevails in litigation typically is not entitled to recover the costs, expenses and legal fees it has to expend to secure a judgment in its favor. As such, many business contracts include a “fee-shifting” provision, requiring a defendant to reimburse a prevailing plaintiff for the reasonable legal fees it incurs to obtain a judgment in its favor – and courts routinely enforce such provisions. Sometimes, a fee-shifting provision is part of a much broader indemnification agreement. While doing so is perfectly appropriate, care needs to be taken in expressing the fee-shifting obligation, or it may not be enforceable. Indeed, that is precisely the unfortunate position in which the plaintiff found itself in Harris v. Imaging Advantage, LLC.
Five years ago, the plaintiffs in Harris initiated their suit against Imaging Advantage in the Business Litigation Session of the Superior Court. In December of 2021, the plaintiffs were awarded summary judgment on two different contract claims, the first of which related to a License and Services Agreement. According to Section 15.1 of the LSA:
Each Party … agree[d] to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the other Party … from and against any
… Keep reading
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A is one of the most potent weapons in any business litigator’s arsenal. That statute prohibits deceptive or unfair acts or practices in the course of trade or commerce, and it allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and even multiple damages (when the malevolent conduct is knowing or willful). While many cases have held that a mere breach of contract alone is not to invoke Chapter 93A liability, other cases have held that leveraging a business partner into a concession – even if there is no breach of a contractual obligation – is actionable under Chapter 93A.
In light of this, it should come as no surprise that for years transactional attorneys have been trying to insulate their clients from the reach of Chapter 93A by using limitation of liability clauses. Unfortunately, the law as to the enforceability of a limitation of liability clause in the Chapter 93A context has been murky. Essentially, precedent set by the Appeals Court held that such provisions could be enforced if the alleged deceptive or unfair conduct arose out of contractual conduct but could not be enforced where the conduct at issue was tort-based (as in the case … Keep reading