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Rodriguez v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

July 31, 2017

RAQUEL RODRIGUEZ [1]
v.
MASSACHUSETTS BAY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY.

          Heard: April 7, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 10, 2015.

         A motion to dismiss was heard by Mitchell H. Kaplan, J.

          Thomas G. Shapiro (Robert Richardson & Edward C. Cumbo also present) for the plaintiff.

          David S. Mackey (Christina S. Marshall also present) for the defendant.

          Present: Grainger, Sullivan, & Kinder, JJ. [2]

          KINDER, J.

         In this case we address whether a public transportation authority breaches a contract with its commuter rail customers when extraordinary winter storms interrupt the service schedule. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that in the circumstances presented here, it does not. Accordingly we affirm the judgment of dismissal pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), for failure to state a breach of contract claim.

         On April 22, 2015, the plaintiff, Raquel Rodriguez, brought this action against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and its commuter rail operator, Keolis Commuter Services, LLC (Keolis), on behalf of a putative class of purchasers of monthly rail passes in January, February, and March, 2015. The complaint alleged that the MBTA commuter rail service suffered severe delays and cancellations during the record-setting snowstorms of 2015. Rodriguez claimed that these service disruptions were in breach of the MBTA's implied contract "to provide timely, reliable commuter rail service . . . for January, February and March of 2015." In a comprehensive written decision, a Superior Court judge allowed the MBTA's motion to dismiss. Among other things, the judge concluded that even if the MBTA had some form of contractual obligation to its monthly pass holders, "the complaint fails to allege an essential element of a breach of contract claim: an agreement between the parties on a material term of the contract at issue." This appeal followed.[3]

         Background.

         We summarize the allegations in the operative complaint and the items appearing in the record of the case. See Schaer v. Brandeis Univ., 432 Mass. 474, 477 (2000) . The MBTA is charged by statute with providing commuter rail and subway service in eastern Massachusetts. G. L. c. 161A, §§ 1 and 2. The MBTA provides service from 138 commuter rail stations situated along fourteen routes. On an average weekday, the MBTA serves 131, 161 passengers on the commuter rail, and monthly passes range from seventy-five dollars to $362.

         Rodriguez and thousands of other commuters purchased monthly passes in January, February, and March of 2015. Rodriguez paid $182 for her so-called "Zone 1" monthly pass, which entitled her to unlimited travel within that zone. The pass did not contain information regarding schedules and fares, but directed passengers to the MBTA's telephone number and Web site for that information.

         In the winter of 2015, the Boston area was beset by severe snowstorms. Four separate winter storms, occurring on January 27, February 2, February 7, and February 14, each registered snow accumulation of ten or more inches. It snowed an additional seven inches between February 15 and 28, and six inches in March. The complaint alleges that the intervals between storms left "more than enough time to clear the snow and return to a full commuter rail schedule."

         Due to the snowstorms, the MBTA canceled all commuter rail, subway, and most bus service from 7:00 £.M. on Monday, February 9, through the end of the day on Tuesday, February 10. At some point in February, the MBTA announced a "winter recovery schedule, " which provided "less than full commuter rail and [subway] service." Throughout March, the MBTA ran one or two morning weekday trains per line, and a total of only four to five trains per day. According to the complaint, commuters were "largely unable to use their monthly commuter rail passes for the second half of February and most of March [of] 2015, or if used at all with substantial uncertainty and ...


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