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Children's Hospital Corp. v. Cabi

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, Business Litigation Session

June 23, 2016

The Children's Hospital Corporation dba Boston Children's Hospital
v.
Serkan Cabi No. 134248

          Filed June 24, 2016

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO ESTABLISH OWNERSHIP OF DISPUTED ELECTRONIC FILES

          Kenneth W. Salinger, Justice

         The Children's Hospital Corporation brought this action because it claims ownership of files stored on a laptop computer used by Serkan Cabi while he worked as a post-doctoral research fellow at Boston Children's Hospital. In its complaint, the Hospital asserts claims for conversion and replevin. The parties have been working for third-party vendors to review the contents of the hard drive on Mr. Cabi's laptop.

         The Hospital has moved for an order " establishing [its] ownership" of five categories of files stored on Mr. Cabi's laptop. The Court will allow part of the Hospital's motion but deny the rest. The undisputed facts show that the Hospital owns the contents of, but not the metadata associated with, the files in categories 1 and 2 of the Hospital's motion. However, there is no way to tell from the undisputed evidence before the Court whether the Hospital owns any of the files, or the contents of any of the files, in categories 3, 4, or 5 of the motion.

         1. Nature of the Pending Motion

         The Court will construe this motion as seeking partial summary judgment and declaratory relief pursuant to G.L.c. 231A. The pleadings in this case make clear that there is an actual controversy between the parties regarding the extent to which the Hospital owns files or information stored on Cabi's laptop. And the Hospital has standing to press its ownership claim. Nothing more is needed to state a claim for declaratory relief. See, e.g., Galipault v. Wash. Rock Investments, LLC, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 73, 83, 836 N.E.2d 1123 (2005). There is no need for the Court to determine whether the Hospital has proved that Mr. Cabi is liable for the tort of conversion in order to resolve the pending motion regarding whether the Hospital owns any of the disputed files on Cabi's laptop.

         It is appropriate to treat this motion as seeking partial summary judgment. Although the Hospital did not style its motion that way, both parties have submitted evidence in support of their legal position and have focused their arguments on whether there are any genuine disputes of material fact and on whether

         Furthermore, the Hospital is entitled to seek declaratory relief even though it did not state a separate cause of action to that effect. See Republic Floors of New England, Inc. v. Weston Racquet Club, Inc., 25 Mass.App.Ct. 479, 487, 520 N.E.2d 160 (1988) (plaintiff may press at trial any legal theory fairly raised by allegations in complaint, even if that theory is not expressly invoked in the complaint); accord Barshak v. Buccheri, 406 Mass. 187, 190-91, 547 N.E.2d 23 (1989). Chapter 231A provides a form of remedy for disputes within the court's subject matter jurisdiction. See East Chop Tennis Club v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrim., 364 Mass. 444, 449, 305 N.E.2d 507 (1973). " Its purpose is to remove, and to afford relief form, uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, duties, status and other legal relations, and it is to be liberally construed and administered" to achieve those aims. G.L.c. 231A, § 9, accord Libertarian Ass'n of Massachusetts v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 462 Mass. 538, 547, 969 N.E.2d 1095 (2012). No special form of pleading is required; " [r]ather, we require only that the pleading 'set forth a real dispute caused by the assertion by one party of a legal relation or status or right in which he has a definite interest and the denial of such assertion by the other party, where the circumstances . . . indicate that, unless a determination is had, subsequent litigation as to the identical subject matter will ensue.'" City of Boston v. Keene Corp., 406 Mass. 301, 304, 547 N.E.2d 328 (1989), quoting Hogan v. Hogan, 320 Mass. 658, 662, 70 N.E.2d 821 (1947).

         2. Contract and Policies Governing the Hospital's Claims

         It is undisputed that Mr. Cabi was employed by the Hospital from June 2007 until April 2015. The Hospital asserts that the " Participation Agreement" that Mr. Cabi signed on July 30, 2008, and three different Hospital policies governing Cabi's employment give it ownership of the disputed files. Cabi concedes that he is bound by this contract and these written policies, though he contests the scope of the Hospital's ownership claims.

         The Participation Agreement entered into by Cabi provides that the Hospital will own " all research results, intellectual property, inventions, discoveries[, ] and copyrightable materials" that Cabi, either alone or with others, conceives of or develops " within the scope of [his] employment" by the Hospital.

         The Children's Hospital Policy on Inventions and Intellectual Property (" IP Policy") provides that " [t]he Hospital owns all research results and intellectual property, whether tangible or intangible, developed by any person on the premises of the Hospital, or through substantial use of the Hospital's resources or facilities, or that relates to the research conducted by such person for the Hospital, or by a person within the scope of his or her employment by the Hospital."

         The Policy on Data Management, Retention and Availability (" Data Policy") provides that the Hospital owns all data developed under Hospital grants or within the scope of Cabi's employment by the Hospital.

         Finally, the Acceptable Use of Computer and Network Resources policy (" Acceptable Use Policy") provides that the Hospital owns all " [i]nformation stored on or transmitted over" any computer or network hardware or software belonging to the Hospital, even if the information is subsequently ...


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