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Rockland Trust Co. v. Langone

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

June 1, 2017

ROCKLAND TRUST COMPANY
v.
ROBERT J. LANGONE.

          Heard: February 7, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk on January 6, 2016.

         The case was considered by Spina, J.

          Jason W. Morgan for the plaintiff.

          Dana Alan Curhan for the defendant.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          LOWY, J.

         The question before us is whether, pursuant to G. L. c. 218, §§ 19 and 19A, a District Court judge may grant a plaintiff's motion to dismiss a compulsory counterclaim under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (10), as appearing in 450 Mass. 1403 (2008), because the counterclaim is reasonably likely to result in the recovery of more than $25, 000. We conclude that the judge may not.

         Background.

         The dispute between the parties stems from two promissory notes executed in 1984 and 1987 to Rockland Trust Company (Rockland) from the Aunyx Corporation, of which the defendant, Robert Langone, was a former officer and principal owner. Alleging that Langone was a guarantor for the notes, Rockland sued Langone in the District Court in 2003, after Aunyx defaulted. Langone filed counterclaims asserting damages of $6, 500. Initially, Rockland prevailed, but, for reasons not relevant here, the judgment was later vacated in 2014.

         Subsequently, Langone brought an additional counterclaim, asserting damages of $110, 000. Citing rule 12 (b) (10), and G. L. c. 218, §§ 19 and 19A (b), Rockland moved to dismiss the counterclaim[1] arguing that the District Court could not proceed with a counterclaim in excess of $25, 000.[2] The judge denied the motion, concluding that she had discretion to retain the case. Rockland appealed to a single justice of the county court under G. L. c. 211, § 3, who denied its petition without a hearing. Rockland appealed to the full court.

         "Because the issue raised relates to the efficient administration of justice in the trial courts, we have elected to decide the case under our power of general superintendence, G. L. c. 211, § 3, second par." Sperounes v. Farese, 449 Mass. 800, 802 (2007). We affirm the single justice's denial of Rockland's petition.

         Discussion.

         Generally, the District Court may proceed with a case "only if there is no reasonable likelihood that recovery by the plaintiff will exceed $25, 000." G. L. c. 218, § 19.[3] See G. L. c. 218, § 19A (b).[4] This limitation is, however, merely procedural, not jurisdictional. Sperounes, 449 Mass. at 806-807. See G. L. c. 218, § 19 (vesting District Court with "original jurisdiction of civil actions for money damages, " but providing that actions "may proceed" only if no reasonable likelihood plaintiff will recover more than $25, 000). If a defendant makes a timely objection to a plaintiff's claim that is reasonably likely to obtain more than $25, 000, the judge must dismiss the claim without prejudice. Sperounes, supra. If, ...


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