93A Opinion in Baker v. Goldman Sachs: What Happens When You Mix In Equal Parts A Start-Up, a Fraudulent Purchaser, a Tech Bubble and a New York Investment Banker?

June 13, 2013

Earlier this year, on the eve of trial in Baker v. Goldman Sachs in federal district court in Boston, I published a blog post describing the facts behind this unusual case, which involved the acquisition of Dragon Systems by Lernout & Hauspie in a $600 million all-stock deal. Soon after the acquisition closed the market discovered that Lernout had fabricated its Asian sales figures. This was quickly followed by Lernout’s bankruptcy, which left Dragon (owned by the Bakers, husband and wife founders) holding worthless Lernout stock. (Baker v. Goldman Sachs – The Business Deal From Hell). The acquisition was negotiated and concluded in the first half of 2000, just as the technology bubble was beginning to deflate.  After a lengthy trial the jury ruled in favor of Goldman Sachs on all issues except the claim that Goldman violated M.G.L. c. 93A, the Massachusetts statute that makes illegal “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” Under Massachusetts law, that claim must be decided by the judge. Now, Massachusetts federal district court judge Patti Saris has issued her decision on the Baker’s 93A claims, holding that Goldman Sachs did not violate 93A. This ruling is not a surprise; judges rarely find a violation of 93A when a jury rules against a plaintiff on the underlying claims, which in this case were negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. However, her opinion is a fascinating…

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Porn Movies, Copyright Trolls and Joinder (Yes, Joinder)

October 31, 2012

In Third Degree Films v. Does 1-47 (D. Mass. October 2, 2012), Judge William Young took on the “copyright trolls” in the adult film industry as best he could, holding that the plaintiff (a publisher of copyright-protected adult films that are being shared on the Internet) cannot join 47 “John Doe” defendants in a single action — it must instead file 47 individual suits. The issue here is part of a larger controversy, the “porn film copyright shakedown.” The way this works is as follows. Copyright holders file Doe suits, which identify defendants only by IP address (all the plaintiff knows at that point). They then subpoena the ISPs and identify the owner of the IP address.  Having identified the owners, they tell them that, absent a quick settlement (typically under $5,000), they will name them in the suit and serve them.  Most people, rather than suffer the embarrassment (or what Judge Young calls the “reputational cost”) of having court records show that they downloaded films with titles like “Big Butt Oil Orgy 2,” settle out-of-court. Judge Young describes this process as “misusing the subpoena powers of the court, seeking the identities of the Doe defendants solely to facilitate demand letters and coerce settlement, rather than ultimately serve process and litigate the claims.”* *As one court put it, a defendant – “whether guilty of copyright infringement or not — would then have to decide whether to pay money to…

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The Road Goes on Forever, But the Lawsuits Never End: ConnectU, Facebook, Their Entourages

January 18, 2010

The ConnectU/Facebook legal saga is truly astounding.  Imagine a mature Oak tree.  Now give the it properties of Kudzu vine (the “vine that ate the South”).  Each branch of this tree is another lawsuit involving ConnectU, Facebook, the principals, and their lawyers. Now, a new branch has burst forth.  Wayne Chang has sued ConnectU and its lawyers in Superior Court Business Litigation Session in Suffolk County, Boston, claiming that Chang is entitled to as much as 50% of the value of the ConnectU/Facebook settlement (so called, since ConnectU has challenged the finality of the settlement). You can read about the ConnectU/Facebook saga here, or wait until the movie comes out. Here is the complaint in the Chang case, and apologies to Robert Earl Keen. Chang v. Winklevoss Complaint

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Hey, It's Not Like President Bush Isn't Doing Anything Important These Days! or, Fresh Evidence That the True Course of Civilization is Upward

September 24, 2008

Here is the text of new Federal Rule of Evidence 502, eliminating waiver resulting from inadvertent disclosures of attorney-client privileged or work-product materials in federal litigation: Federal Rule of Evidence 502 (signed into law September 19, 2008) The following provisions apply, in the circumstances set out, to disclosure of a communication or information covered by the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection. (a) Disclosure made in a federal proceeding or to a federal office or agency; scope of a waiver. — When the disclosure is made in a federal proceeding or to a federal office or agency and waives the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection, the waiver extends to an undisclosed communication or information in a federal or state proceeding only if: (1) the waiver is intentional; (2) the disclosed and undisclosed communications or information concern the same subject matter; and (3) they ought in fairness to be considered together. (b) Inadvertent disclosure. — When made in a federal proceeding or to a federal office or agency, the disclosure does not operate as a waiver in a federal or state proceeding if: (1) the disclosure is inadvertent; (2) the holder of the privilege or protection took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure; and (3) the holder promptly took reasonable steps to rectify the error, including (if applicable) following Fed. R. 25 Civ. P. 26(b)(5)(B). (c) Disclosure made in a state proceeding. —…

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Massachusetts Software Company Liable for Breach of License Agreement and Under Chapter 93A

July 26, 2008

It’s probably fair to say that there are thousands of software license and development agreements entered into every business day in the U.S. Only a very small number result in a lawsuit, and an even smaller number end up with a jury verdict and ruling under 93A by a Massachusetts trial judge. So, when a case does go the distance, it’s worth paying attention. The recent decision by Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Leila R. Kern in v. Accusoft Corporation discusses the evidence in a jury trial that resulted in a more than $400,000 verdict against Accusoft. In Massachusetts the trial judge, not the jury, decides claims under M.G.L. c. 93A, Massachusetts’ “little FTC Act.” Depending on the violation, Chapter 93A allows the judge to award double or treble damages and attorney’s fees to the prevailing plaintiff. The Accusoft decision is the trial judge’s discussion and analysis of the evidence that the jury heard for purposes of her analysis and decision under 93A. The evidence at trial is a common story, although it rarely leads to a jury trial and judgment. Accusoft contracted with to develop a software application. Accusoft represented that it had much of the underlying technology already in place, a claim that the jury and judge found to be untrue. After Accusoft was unable to deliver an acceptable prototype to Perfectyourself a standoff developed – “pay…

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Traps for the Unwary – Waiver

July 23, 2008

What do lawyers fear the most? Spiders, snakes, public speaking, death by auto de fe? Well, I’ll be darned if I know, but one thing that scares the bejesus out of all thinking lawyers is waiver. Lawyers start to become vaguely aware of this horror in law school. Once they go out into practice it slowly dawns on them that it’s ultimately undefinable, that it lurks behind every legal shrub and tree, that opposing counsel will throw it in your face when you least expect it and long after you can fix it, and that if they don’t a court may do so on its own initiative. In its most severe forms it can lead to bankruptcy, scandal, and even malpractice (apologies to Jimmy Stewart). Take a simple summary judgment motion in federal court. Unbeknownst to the novice lawyer, this process is fraught with dangers. The defendant files the motion. You file an opposition. The defendant files a reply affidavit introducing new facts. You lose the motion, and on appeal you argue that it was inappropriate for the defendant to introduce new facts in its reply. You cite the “no new facts” rule. After all, you were sandbagged by that reply, and the court shouldn’t have relied upon it. Not so fast, the First Circuit recently held on these facts – did you raise this with the district court and…

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Rock Star Judges and E-Law

July 21, 2008

Anytime these judges write an opinion, it’s treated like a papal encyclical,” . . . They really influence other judges, who act like these are the rock stars of their profession. . . These ‘rock star’ judges are not surprised that they, and not the new rules, are still the final word in e-discovery. . . . Quoted from Rockin’ Out the E-Law, ABA Journal, July 2008. Rock star judges, huh? OK, I’m trying not to wince, laugh or, well, you know… The American Bar Association needs to sell its publications, so you can’t blame them too much, I suppose. In any event, this article names several judges as prominent in the area of discovery of electronically stored evidence (“ESI”), including Chief Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Se

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First Circuit Widens Door to Claims of "Hostile Work Environment"

February 8, 2008

The words “hostile work environment” get tossed around a lot by lawyers. But, just what constitutes a hostile environment that’s actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is uncertain. It’s sort of a “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” standard. That standard may work at the two extremes (clearly egregious vs. obviously benign behavior), but it can be difficult to apply in the grey zone. The First Circuit has weighed in on this issue with an important decision, reported in today’s Boston Globe, reversing summary judgment against an employee of the Town of Grafton who claimed a hostile work environment based on the assertion that her supervisor repeatedly stared at her breasts. The First Circuit saw the behavior in this case differently than the trial judge, who had dismissed the case. Quoting from the Boston Globe article: The three-member appeals panel said that Billings’s sexual harassment suit had raised serious claims, including that Connor had created a hostile work environment by staring at the breasts of several town employees and, after Billings complained to the Board of Selectmen around 2001, had retaliated against her by transferring her to another municipal job. “Taken in the light most favorable to Billings, the evidence depicts a supervisor who regularly stared at her breasts for much of the 2 1/2 years they worked together,”…

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The Massachusetts "Guide" to Evidence

October 16, 2007

Courts, Litigation. Back in the early 1980s, when I was new to the Massachusetts Bar, there was an effort by the organized bar to codify the rules of evidence. That effort failed, and to this day the rules of evidence are a confusing patchwork of common law and legislative enactment. The “go to” source for the law of evidence has been, in the memory of almost all living Massachusetts attorneys, the Handbook of Massachusetts Evidence (8th Ed. 2006), by the former Chief Judge of the Supreme Judicial Court, Paul Liacos, and currently edited by Mark Brodin and Michael Avery. (The previous editions of this work were published in 1940, 1948, 1956, 1967 (when Justice Liacos took over), 1981 and 1993). However, the long-dead phoenix of evidence codification may be rising from the ashes, albeit in a slightly different form. In 2006 the SJC established an advisory committee to develop a “Guide” to evidence (not to be confused with “Rules” of evidence), and that Guide is now in its proposed form. The draft Massachusetts Guide to Evidence is available here (a 226 page pdf file). Not surprisingly, the Guide makes unabashed and extensive use of the Proposed Rules of Evidence which, although never formally adopted, have been cited in Liacos and to trial courts since their “non-adoption” in 1982. Go figure.

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Electronic Discovery and the New Federal Rules: What Every Lawyer Should Know

December 1, 2006

At long last, the highly anticipated amendments to the new federal rules of civil procedure are here. The federal court system has amended its rules of procedure to address electronic discovery, aka “e-discovery”. The amendments became effective on December 1, 2006. Unfortunately, this news has been greeted with yawns from many attorneys who believe this is just another run-of-the-mill procedural change. Far from it; the e-discovery revolution represented by this rules change – and it is a revolution – is anything but ordinary, and the courts (which have been warming up to this issue for some time) have warned that its effects will be profound and far-reaching. The rule changes themselves may not appear earth-shattering, but they change the standard for both lawyers and clients as it relates to the exchange and management of information in litigation. Since the federal court system has provided summaries of the changes (see rules 16, 26, 33, 34, 37 and 45), we won’t go into fine detail. However, there are a few changes worth highlighting, including the obligations placed on litigants and the courts to confront e-discovery at the outset of a case (see rules 16 and 26), the definitional changes designed to address “electronically stored information” (see rules 26 and 34), and the “safe harbor” exception which protects parties from sanctions if data is lost during the routine, good-faith operation of their computer…

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Electronic Evidence – Fear and Loathing in the Legal Profession

October 26, 2006

The best aspect of law school is the subordination of math. Anon ________ The schematic displayed above (click for a blow up in pdf format) is a simplified illustration of a corporate network which Microsoft provided to the Federal Rules Committee in connection with proceedings on electronic evidence. It was intended to illustrate a generic corporate computer network. If you are a lawyer and this seems like an alien concept that no lawyer should ever be required to understand, you’re not alone. Lets face it – like most stereotypes, the old joke that lawyers go to law school to avoid math and technology contains a large element of truth. So, it’s not hard to sense the anxiety emanating from the hallways of the nation’s law offices as the electronic discovery tsunami picks up speed. Yes, there’s a new technology boom, but it’s not the kind that sent clients flocking to their lawyers for legal representation in the 1990s. Many lawyers in their 50s and 60s can barely find the caps lock key on a computer keyboard, much less learn the intricacies of “IT“. Nevertheless, every day emails and brochures arrive announcing seminars and warning that the era of electronic data discovery (EDD) has finally, truly arrived. Luddite lawyers are warned that – 99% of all documents created today are in electronic form. Changes to the federal rules of civil procedure…

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When It Comes To Long-Arm Jurisdiction, Unpredictability Rules

October 4, 2006

Lawyers know that one of the most unpredictable decisions a Superior Court judge can make involves long-arm jurisdiction – that is, whether the defendant has enough “contacts” with the state to be sued here. (For an article by the author discussing the state long-arm statute in depth, click here). Two recent decisions illustrate this point. In Saint-Gobain Ceramics v. Happy Hewes Judge Bruce Henry ruled that there was no personal jurisdiction over Hewes, who lived in Illinois, despite the fact that Hewes had been an employee of Saint-Gobain, engaged in phone calls with Saint-Gobain in Massachusetts, had made multiple visits to Massachusetts on company business and had received paychecks from Saint-Gobain’s facility in the state. Most lawyers would tell you that this was more than enough to establish personal jurisdiction, but Judge Henry disagreed, noting that “whatever Hewes did during the unspecified number of contacts with Massachusetts was at his employer’s behest and not for his own purposes.” This line of reasoning has little basis in Massachusetts law that I’m aware of, but it persuaded Judge Henry, who dismissed the case against Happy Hewes, leaving Saint-Gobain to pursue him in Illinois. On the other hand, in Deutch Williams v. Naturopathic Laboratories Int’l a Massachusetts law firm sued its former client for attorney’s fees. Even though the former client had no operations in Massachusetts and had never visited here in connection…

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