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Cruz v. Boston Litigation

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 19, 2016

ANNA CRUZ, Plaintiff,
v.
BOSTON LITIGATION SOLUTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON HAYSTACKID, LLC'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Docket No. 190]

          JENNIFER C. BOAL, Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, plaintiff Anna Cruz alleges, inter alia, that her former employer, Boston Litigation Solutions, LLC ("BLS") failed to pay her overtime and minimum wages, discriminated against her on the basis of a perceived disability, and invaded her privacy in violation of Massachusetts law. Cruz also brings claims against HaystackID, LLC ("Haystack") on the theory that Haystack is BLS's successor. Haystack has filed a motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 190.[1] For the following reasons, the Court recommends that the District Judge assigned to this case deny the motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Cruz filed this action on May 8, 2013. Docket No. 1. On February 25, 2014, Cruz filed an amended complaint. Docket No. 26.

         On July 1, 2015, this Court granted in part and denied in part Cruz's motion to file a further amended complaint. Docket No. 114. Cruz filed her Second Amended Complaint on July 6, 2015. Docket No. 116. Among other things, the Second Amended Complaint added Haystack as a defendant as to all claims based on a successor liability theory.

         On February 24, 2016, Haystack filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 190. Cruz filed her opposition on March 24, 2016. Docket No. 197. Haystack filed a reply on April 7, 2016. Docket No. 201. The Court heard oral argument on May 18, 2016.

         II. FACTS[2]

         In June 2007, Jefferey Stevens founded BLS.[3] BLS was organized under the laws of Massachusetts with Stevens as manager.[4] BLS's 2008 Annual Report added Kevin Glass and Nicole (Goddard) Glass as co-managers along with Stevens.[5] BLS's 2009 Annual Report lists Stevens, Nicole Glass and Kevin Glass as managers.[6] BLS's 2010, 2011, and 2012 Annual Reports list only Stevens and Kevin Glass as managers.[7]

         BLS provided electronic discovery, data processing, and imaging services for law firms.[8] BLS also performed paper production services for its customers.[9] BLS maintains that it only did work local to the Boston market and did no business outside of the state.[10] However, BLS provided services to law firms with offices in other states and DaVita, one of its customers, had no offices in Massachusetts.[11]

         Kevin Glass was a part owner of BLS.[12] BLS maintains that Kevin Glass's ownership ended in 2013 because his vesting period had concluded.[13] During discovery, BLS, Stevens and Kevin Glass characterized the transaction differently, stating that Kevin Glass's ownership had been "earned out" or "whittled out."[14] On February 1, 2013, Kevin Glass executed a resignation as managing member of BLS.[15] Cruz alleges, however, that Kevin Glass continued to have an active role in the management of BLS until it ceased operations in June 2013.[16]

         Stevens and Glass assert that in late 2012, BLS was failing because the eDiscovery market was evolving.[17] The market was moving from paper to forensics and BLS was not equipped for complex eDiscovery work.[18] Stevens decided to shut down BLS and "downsize all employees."[19]

         Haystack maintains that it was organized in Delaware as a limited liability company in March 2011.[20] Cruz disputes the date of organization as the Foreign Limited Liability Company Application for Registration which was filed with the Massachusetts Secretary of State listed Haystack's date of organization as June 29, 2007.[21] Haystack asserts that the date listed in the Foreign Limited Liability Company Application was a typographical error by the company's accountant who filed the application.[22]

         Kevin and Jason Glass created Haystack to provide international end-to-end eDiscovery, digital forensics services, and litigation-preparedness solutions.[23] Its focus is to offer sophisticated litigation response consulting, managed services, and forensic experts that can testify for clients.[24] Haystack developed proprietary software to manage data more effectively and to manage potential evidence for litigation.[25]

         Kevin Glass is Haystack's Chief Executive Officer ("CEO").[26] Jason Glass is the Executive Vice President.[27] The Operating Agreement also lists Nicole Glass as a party.[28] Haystack's Foreign Limited Liability Company Application for Registration in Massachusetts, dated June 26, 2013, lists Kevin Glass, Nicole Goddard, and Jefferey Stevens as managers.[29] Haystack's 2014 Annual Report lists Kevin Glass, Nicole Goddard, and Jefferey Stevens as managers.[30] Again, Haystack asserts, without more, that these dates are mistakes.

         Haystack rented office space at 21 Congress Street in Salem, Massachusetts and 1 International Place in Boston, Massachusetts.[31] Haystack also occupied space at 100 Franklin Street, the same space occupied by BLS.[32]

         In June 2013, Kevin Glass came into the BLS's offices at 100 Franklin Street and met with employees regarding the termination of their employment at BLS.[33] At least one employee (Carline Duroska) testified that Kevin Glass told employees that the company name was going to change to HaystackID.[34] When Duroska asked Kevin Glass whether they were "going to be doing the same thing, " Kevin Glass responded "oh, yes, we're going to be doing [sic] - just the name is going to change."[35] Kevin Glass personally met with BLS' employees and laid them off from BLS and then hired them as Haystack employees, sometimes in the same meeting.[36] Duroska testified that she was not given a final paycheck from BLS and that her next biweekly paycheck contained one week of pay from BLS and one from Haystack.[37]

         BLS terminated its contract with HRO, an outside human resources consulting company, in June or July of 2013.[38] In June or July 2013, Haystack entered into a contract with HRO.[39] Haystack denies that it hired all of BLS's employees, but HRO believed that Haystack hired all of the employees laid off by BLS.[40] HRO did not believe that there was any interval of time between the end of BLS and the beginning of Haystack.[41]

         For approximately two years after June of 2013, Haystack continued the same operations in paper production which had been performed by BLS at the Franklin Street location.[42] Haystack paid rent to BLS and BLS paid the rent to the landlord.[43] Haystack vacated the Franklin Street location when BLS's lease was over.[44] Paper production services continued on the same equipment which BLS used, although some equipment was replaced in the ordinary course of business and other equipment was returned when the lease expired.[45] BLS effectively stopped doing business after June of 2013, when it laid off its employees, who were then hired by Haystack to perform the same job functions.[46] BLS, however, has not formally dissolved.[47]

         Many of Haystack's clients had been clients of BLS.[48] Immediately after BLS ceased operations, Haystack received business from McDermott, Will & Emery ("MWE"), one of BLS's largest clients.[49] Haystack's business from MWE slowed down around 2015.[50]

         This lawsuit was filed on May 8, 2013. Docket No. 1. Starting on May 9, 2013, the Essex County Sheriff's Office made six attempts to serve Kevin Glass, BLS's registered agent, at the address listed in the Secretary of State's website, which was also his home address.[51]

         On June 4, 2013, BLS filed a Restated Certificate of Organization, which stated:

KEVIN GLASS HAS BEEN REMOVED AS THE REGISTERED AGENT AND IT HAS BEEN CHANGED TO JEFFEREY STEVENS. KEVIN GLASS HAS ALSO BEEN REMOVED AS A MANAGER. KEVIN GLASS HAS ALSO BEEN REMOVED FROM AUTHORITY TO EXECUTE DOCUMENTS TO BE FILED WITH THE CORPORATIONS DIVISION. KEVIN GLASS HAS ALSO BEEN REMOVED FROM AUTHORITY TO EXECUTE ANY RECORDABLE INSTRUMENT PURPORTED TO AFFECT AN INTEREST IN REAL ESTATE.[52]

         This filing also updated the Registered Agent to Stevens and the Registered Agent's address to 100 Franklin Street in Boston.[53]

         On June 20, 21, and 24, the Essex County Sheriff's Office attempted service at 100 Franklin Street.[54] A Suffolk County Sheriff's Department Civil Process Division Diligent Search form states, in relevant part: "Unable to obtain definite answers on person in charge. Other than they were a new co. Did get to speak to Mr. Scott Parker, informing me of new co. called Haystack ID. Told me Solutions moved out 2 weeks ago."[55] The form also stated that the "Bldg. super stated they were still vendor."[56]

         On December 3, 2014, Attorney Trevor Findlen filed a notice of appearance on behalf of BLS.[57] The notice listed Mr. Findlen's address as "HaystackID, LLC, 6 Beacon Street, Suite 815, Boston, MA 02108."[58] His email address was listed as tfindlen@haystackid.com.[59] On September 16, 2015, Mr. Findlen filed a notice of appearance on behalf of Haystack.[60] Attorney Jeremy Bombard entered an appearance for both BLS and Haystack after Attorney Findlen withdrew from representing them.[61] Mr. Bombard is in-house counsel for Haystack.[62]

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard Of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A dispute is genuine' if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party." Sanchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996) (quotations and citations omitted). A material fact is one which has "the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law." Id . (quotations and citations omitted).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If that burden is met, the opposing party can avoid summary judgment only by providing properly supported evidence of disputed material facts that would require trial. See id. at 324. "[T]he non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, '" but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986)).

         The court must view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and indulge all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See O'Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d 905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). However, "[a]s to any essential factual element of its claim on which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial, its failure to come forward with sufficient evidence to generate a trialworthy issue warrants summary judgment to the moving party." In re Spigel, 260 F.3d 27, 31 (1st Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "If, after viewing the record in the non-moving party's favor, the Court determines that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment is appropriate." Walsh v. Town of Lakeville, 431 F.Supp.2d 134, 143 (D. Mass. 2006).

         B. Issues Of Fact Preclude Summary Judgment

         Haystack argues that Cruz has not presented sufficient evidence to hold it liable for BLS's actions on a theory of successor liability. Docket No. 191 at 7-12. The Court finds that issues of fact preclude summary judgment.

         "In Massachusetts, as in most jurisdictions, the general rule is that one corporation may ordinarily purchase all of the assets of another without taking on any of its liabilities." Nat'l Gypsum Co. v. Continental Brands Corp., 895 F.Supp. 328, 333 (D. Mass. 1995) (citations omitted). There are four exceptions to this general rule; liability may be imposed if "(1) the successor expressly or impliedly assumes liability of the predecessor, (2) the transaction is a de facto merger or consolidation, (3) the successor is a mere continuation of the predecessor, or (4) the transaction is a fraudulent effort to avoid liabilities of the predecessor." Milliken v. Duro Textiles, LLC, 451 Mass. 547, 556 (2008). "[A] determination of whether a predecessor corporation continues to exist for purposes of successor liability is wholly fact specific." Id. at 559. "No single indicator of succession is controlling." Id. at 558.

         Cruz argues that successor liability attaches to Haystack under the de facto merger, mere continuation, and fraud theories of successor liability. Docket No. 197 at 7-13.

         While the labels "de facto merger" and "mere continuation" "have been enshrined separately in the canonical list of exceptions to the general rule of no successor liability, they appear, in practice to refer to the same concept, and courts have often used the two terms interchangeably." Nat'l Gypsum Co., 895 F.Supp. at 336. The concept of de facto merger has usually been applied to situations in which the ownership, assets and management of one corporation are combined with those of another, preexisting entity while a mere continuation has been most often found where the owners of the selling entity set up the buyer with the specific purpose of continuing their business under a new form. Id.

         Courts consider the following factors in determining whether a transfer of assets should be considered a de facto merger ...


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