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Kahalas v. Schiller

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 18, 2016

HOWARD M. KAHALAS, PC, Plaintiff,
v.
MARC J. SCHILLER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge.

This dispute is internecine. It arises from allegations that one attorney intentionally and maliciously defamed another law firm so that its client would retain a third attorney to represent her in a personal injury action.

Pending before the Court is defendant attorney’s motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to require a more definite statement. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be allowed, in part, and denied, in part, and the motion to require a more definite statement will be denied.

I. Background

The Court accepts as true the following allegations by plaintiff Howard M. Kahalas, PC (“plaintiff” or “Kahalas, PC”) for the purpose of resolving the motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff is a law firm specializing in personal injury litigation and a Massachusetts professional corporation with its principal office in Boston, Massachusetts. Lisa Aronson (“Aronson”), Steven Bergel (“Bergel”) and Howard Kahalas (“Kahalas”) are attorneys who work at the firm.

Non-party Kathleen Tuscano (“Kathleen”) is an individual who sustained serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident in March, 2015 that left her in a coma and unable to communicate. Plaintiff had purportedly represented Kathleen in an unrelated claim for personal injuries caused by an earlier motor vehicle accident in July, 2006.

Members of Kathleen’s family include her parents, John and Patricia Tuscano (“John and Patricia”), her brother, Jake Tuscano (“Jake”) and her long-term boyfriend, Justin Behling (“Behling”). Prior to the March, 2015 accident, Behling and Kathleen lived together in a house owned by Behling’s uncle. The complaint does not name any of Kathleen’s family as parties to the instant action.

Defendant Marc J. Schiller (“defendant” or “Schiller”) is Behling’s uncle. He is also an attorney who resides in New Hampshire.

Plaintiff claims that, shortly after the March, 2015 accident, associates of the firm communicated with members of Kathleen’s family and agreed to represent Kathleen on a contingency fee basis in her new claim for personal injuries. Attorneys Aronson and Bergel attended a meeting with John, Patricia, Jake and Behling at the hospital where Kathleen received treatment. Plaintiff alleges that Attorney Bergel formed “a close and intimate personal relationship” with Kathleen’s family and frequently visited and communicated with them to discuss Kathleen’s condition and the family’s needs.

Attorney Bergel met with the Tuscano family in early May, 2015 when he heard Kathleen speak for the first time. One day later, Attorneys Bergel and Kahalas met with John, Jake and the defendant at plaintiff’s law office where Bergel and Kahalas answered defendant’s questions concerning Kathleen’s case. Plaintiff suggests that the meeting lasted less than an hour and that John, Jake and defendant spoke privately after the meeting for about an hour.

Plaintiff complains that “communications between [it] and the Tuscano family noticeably chilled” after the meeting and that John later informed Attorney Bergel that defendant “was not impressed with the meeting”. Plaintiff avers that it later received an e-mail from Jake that questioned its experience, qualifications and litigation strategy. Shortly thereafter plaintiff was notified that the Tuscano family had retained another attorney to represent Kathleen on her personal injury claim.

In August, 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court asserting that defendant “slandered [it] to the Tuscano family” in order to induce the family to retain another attorney to replace it as counsel on the personal injury claim. It alleges that defendant’s actions constituted 1) intentional interference with its contractual relationship with Kathleen, 2) intentional interference with its advantageous business relationship with her, 3) defamation and 4) unfair business practices under M.G.L. c. 93A, §§ 2 and 11 (“Chapter 93A”). Defendant duly removed the action to this Court on diversity grounds and filed the pending motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to require a more definite statement.

II. Motion to dismiss

A. Legal standard

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In considering the merits of a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 72 (1st Cir. 2011). Threadbare recitals of the legal elements, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice to state a cause of action. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A ...


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