Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a superior court judge denying the special motion to dismiss under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H, the anti-SLAPP statute, filed by Exxon Mobil Corporation in this civil enforcement action brought by the Attorney General, holding that the anti-SLAPP statute does not apply to civil enforcement actions by the Attorney General.The Attorney General brought this action against Exxon Mobil for various alleged violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A based on the company's communications regarding the impact of climate change with investors and consumers. Exxon Mobil filed an anti-SLAPP motion, asserting that the action was motivated by its "petitioning" activity. The superior court judge denied the motion on the ground that at least some of the activity alleged in the complaint was not "petitioning" under the statute. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed on an alternate ground, holding that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 59H does not apply to civil enforcement actions brought by the Attorney General. View "Commonwealth v. Exxon Mobil Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgments of the superior court in this dispute over a commercial lease, holding that contractual provisions limiting liability for violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 11 will not be enforced to protect defendants who willfully or knowingly engage in the unfair or deceptive conduct prohibited by the statute.The statute at issue makes unfair or deceptive acts or practices between businesses unlawful. When Defendants attempted to terminate a lease agreement between the parties, Plaintiff alleged a violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 11. The judge found for Plaintiff on its claim and granted specific performance. After finding that Defendants' violations of the statute were willful or knowing the judge doubled the damages awarded. After reopening the trial, the judge awarded Plaintiff additional damages for willful or knowing violations. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendants' conduct met the standard for unfair or deceptive acts or practices under chapter 93A, 11; (2) the double damages award was warranted; and (3) a limitation of liability provision provides no protection in a chapter 93A, 11 action where the violation of the statute was done willfully or knowingly, as in this case. View "H1 Lincoln, Inc. v. South Washington Street, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the $1.25 fee cap set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 262, 41 applies only to a particular notarial act known as "noting," and that the meaning of that section has not been expanded to include all notarial acts.The question at issue in this case arose in connection with a lawsuit in which Plaintiff alleged that Defendants - The UPS Store, Inc., and J&V Logistics LLC, the franchise owner - overcharged him for notary services. Plaintiff alleged violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 262, 41 and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. Defendants removed the case to the federal district court. Thereafter, Defendants moved to certify to the Supreme Judicial Court the question of whether section 41 applies to all notarial acts, as argued by Plaintiff. The district court certified the question. The Supreme Judicial Court held that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 262, 41 and 43 to not proscribe fees for acts unrelated to the protest of a negotiable instrumented that, aside from section 41, there are currently no statutes or executive orders that cap fees for any other notarial act. View "Richardson v. UPS Store, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Defendant's motion to compel arbitration of Plaintiff's claims that Defendant had engaged in improper debt collection practices and debt collection regulations, holding that there was no error in the denial of Defendant's motion to compel arbitration.Plaintiff allegedly owed debt to Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company of Boston, LLC for damage to a rental vehicle. Enterprise assigned the debt to Defendant for collection. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against Defendant, alleging that Defendant made too frequent phone contact with him and other debtors. Defendant sought to compel arbitration of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the rental contract between Plaintiff and Enterprise. The superior court denied the motion to compel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that reasonable minds could differ as to whether the arbitration provision in the contract was applicable to claims brought against Defendant, and therefore, Defendant did not put forth the clear and definite evidence of intent that it must to be entitled to enforce the arbitration provision as a third-party beneficiary. View "Landry v. Transworld Systems Inc." on Justia 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

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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

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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