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Limoliner, Inc. v. Dattco, Inc.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

September 7, 2016

LIMOLINER, INC.
v.
DATTCO, INC.

          Heard: May 2, 2016

         Certification of a question of law to the Supreme Judicial Court by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

          Robert E. Curtis, Jr., for the plaintiff.

          Christopher S. Williams for the defendant.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.[1]

          LENK, J.

         The plaintiff, Limoliner, Inc. (Limoliner), owns and operates a fleet of luxury motor coaches. In 2011, it hired the defendant, Dattco, Inc. (Dattco), to perform repair work on one those of vehicles, verbally requesting certain specific repairs. The defendant recorded most of those requests in writing, but failed to write down the plaintiff's request to repair one of the vehicle's key electrical components. The defendant then failed to make any repairs to that component. Thereafter, the plaintiff commenced an action in the Superior Court, alleging, among other things, that, by not recording the plaintiff's verbal request in writing, the defendant had violated G. L. c. 93A, § 2 (a.), as interpreted by 940 Code Mass. Regs. § 5.05(2) (1993) ("unfair or deceptive act" for automobile repair shop not to record in writing specific repairs requested by customer). The case was removed to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Following a jury-waived trial, a magistrate judge rejected the plaintiff's claim under 940 Code Mass. Regs. § 5.05(2), concluding that the regulation applied only to consumer transactions, and not to transactions where the customer is another business. The plaintiff appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified to us the following question:

"Does 940 [Code Mass. Regs.] § 5.05 apply to transactions in which the customer is a business entity?"

         We conclude that this regulation does apply to transactions in which the customer is a business entity and, accordingly, answer "yes" to the certified question.

         1. Background.

         "We set forth below the relevant background and procedural history of the case contained in the [decision of] the First Circuit [certifying a question to this court], occasionally supplemented by undisputed information in the record." Insurance Co. of the State of Pa. v. Great N. Ins. Co., 473 Mass. 745, 746 (2016). See Limoliner, Inc. v. Dattco, Inc., 809 F.3d 33 (1st Cir. 2016) (Limoliner).

         Limoliner is a Massachusetts corporation that operates a fleet of luxury motor coaches. Id at 34. Dattco is a Connecticut corporation that repairs motor vehicles, including buses and coaches. Id. at 34-35. In May, 2011, representatives of Limoliner met with representatives of Dattco regarding one of Limoliner's motor coaches, which was in need of extensive repairs. Id. at 35. At this meeting, Limoliner verbally requested that Dattco repair, among other things, the vehicle's inverter. The inverter is "an important component of LimoLiner's vehicles" because it converts power generated by the vehicle into a form usable by passengers, who may plug their electronic devices into onboard outlets. Dattco agreed to make the necessary repairs, including those to the inverter. Id. Following this meeting, Dattco generated a written list of repairs that did not include the inverter. Id.

         In August, 2011, repairs to the motor coach -- including to the inverter -- were not yet complete, and Limoliner "became concerned about the time Dattco was taking to repair the vehicle." Id. Later that month, Dattco informed Limoliner that the vehicle was ready to be picked up, although the inverter had not yet been fixed. Id. Dattco sent Limoliner an invoice for $10, 404, which Limoliner refused to pay. Id. Dattco, however, "would not return [the vehicle] without payment of its invoice."

         In October, 2011, Limoliner commenced this action in the Superior Court, asserting claims for breach of contract, misrepresentation, negligence, and replevin. Id. It also asserted a claim pursuant to G. L. c. 93A, § 2 (a.), alleging that Dattco had engaged in an "unfair or deceptive act[ ] or practice[]" by failing to record in writing, as required by 940 Code Mass. Regs. § 5.05, Limoliner's verbal request for inverter work.[2] Id. at 36. After removing the case to Federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, the defendant asserted counterclaims for breach of contract and quantum meruit.[3] Id. at 35.

         Following a jury-waived trial, a magistrate judge found for Limoliner on the breach of contract claim.[4] She found for Dattco on Limoliner's remaining claims, as well as on the counterclaim for quantum meruit.[5] Id. at 36. In rejecting Limoliner's regulatory claim under 940 Code Mass. Regs. § 5.05, the judge concluded that the provision at issue did not apply to disputes between businesses, and that, accordingly, Limoliner was not entitled to relief. Id.

         Limoliner appealed from various aspects of the decision. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the judgment, except with respect to the regulatory claim. Id. at 42. On ...


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