First Circuit Weighs in on the Law of Unjust Enrichment in Massachusetts

The terms “unjust enrichment,” “restitution,” “quasi-contract” and “constructive trust” cause the average lawyer to recoil with apprehension (although she doesn’t show it, of course). We were forced to grapple with some of these ancient legal concepts in law school, but we quickly migrated to more modern legal principles, and although we may have remembered the terms (any lawyer worth his salt can throw around the terms unjust enrichment and restitution), the depth of knowledge of most lawyers on these topics is shallow at best. We were relieved when we could move on to things like the Uniform Commercial Code, which dates back only to the early 1950’s.

In fact, it’s easy to trace “unjust enrichment” and related terms back as far as the 1600s, and earlier. A search on Google Book Search reveals a volume titled “Unjust Enrichment in England before 1600.” References to Roman Law are also not difficult to find.… Read the full article

For more years than I can remember we’ve been warning clients that an employee handbook can create unintended legal obligations.  A case decided by the Supreme Judicial Court late last year (December 2008), serves as a reminder of this hazard. The court found that a sick day policy contained in a handbook bound the Mass Turnpike Authority to pay certain benefits.

The case attempts to leave the issue of whether a handbook creates a binding obligation open to a case-by-case analysis (especially when it comes to promises of employment to at-will employees, where it seems less likely that a handbook can get employers in trouble), but the fact remains that this is an area fraught with risk. Who even wants to go through the hassle and expense of defending one of these cases, when they are so easy to avoid? Placing a prominent “disclaimer” at the front of the book will do the job:

“This handbook is is presented as a matter of information only and its contents should not be interpreted as a contract or other form of obligation between the firm and any of its employees”

Rarely does the law make avoiding a legal headache so simple.… Read the full article

[Update, November 7, 2011]: Almost 3 years later, and still no law.

Here is the full text of a bill filed last week that would make noncompete agreements unenforceable in Massachusetts, at least as to employees (as contrasted with noncompete covenants entered into in connection with the sale of a business, the other major category of noncompete covenants):

AN ACT TO PROHIBIT RESTRICTIVE EMPLOYMENT COVENANTS Section 1. Section 19 of Chapter 149 of the General Laws of Massachusetts is hereby amended by inserting at the end the following new paragraphs:

Any written or oral contract or agreement arising out of an employment relationship that prohibits, impairs, restrains, restricts, or places any condition on, a person’s ability to seek, engage in or accept any type of employment or independent contractor work, for any period of time after an employment relationship has ended, shall be void and unenforceable with respect to that restriction.

Read the full article

Judge Young Lays Down the Law on Earn-Outs

by Lee Gesmer on December 30, 2008

Judge Young Lays Down the Law on Earn-Outs

[Update: the decision discussed below was reversed by the First Circuit in October 2009.  Decision here]

So, you have a great little business, and a large company wants to acquire it. The buyer argues that payment for your company should be determined by an “earn-out” — the buyer’s sales of your product will determine the purchase price (in whole or in part) based on an agreed-upon formula. “Perfectly normal,” your lawyer assures you. “Seen it done in 8 acquisitions out of 10,” he says. You say nothing – your lawyer knows the ropes, right?

But, as Massachusetts federal district court Judge William Young made clear in his recent decision in Sonoran Scanners v. PerkinElmer, if you (the seller, in this case tiny Sonoran Scanners) expect the buyer (in this case the much larger PerkinElmer) to market your product (leading to sales and payments to you under the earn-out formula), you’d better make sure that the contract spells out the actions the buyer is expected to take to promote the product.… Read the full article