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Hefter Impact Technologies, LLC v. Sport Maska, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 3, 2017

HEFTER IMPACT TECHNOLOGIES, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
SPORT MASKA, INC., d/b/a REEBOK - CCM HOCKEY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE THE TESTIMONY OF ROGER BALL

          F. DENNIS SAYLOR IV, United States District Judge

         This is a contract dispute. In 2005, plaintiff Hefter Impact Technologies, LLC, entered into an agreement with defendant Sport Maska, Inc., d/b/a Reebok - CCM Hockey, for the sale and assignment of a design for an ice-hockey helmet. The agreement provided for a lump-sum payment as well as the payment of royalties on the sale of certain helmets. In substance, the complaint alleges that defendant has failed to pay plaintiff royalties it is owed under the agreement.

         Pending before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by both parties and a motion to strike the testimony of Roger Ball filed by defendant. For the following reasons, the motions will be denied.

         The background in this case has been described in the Court's memorandum and order on plaintiff's motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence filed contemporaneously with this memorandum and order. Accordingly, the Court will proceed directly to the parties' legal claims.

         I. Motions for Summary Judgment

         A. Standard of Review

         The role of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Mesnick v. General Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991) (quoting Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 50 (1st Cir. 1990)). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party 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 genuine issue is “one that must be decided at trial because the evidence, viewed in the light most flattering to the nonmovant, would permit a rational fact finder to resolve the issue in favor of either party.” Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). In evaluating a summary judgment motion, the court indulges all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See O'Connor v. Steeves, 994 F.2d 905, 907 (1st Cir. 1993). When “a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotations omitted). The nonmoving party may not simply “rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, ” but instead must “present affirmative evidence.” Id. at 256-57.

         B. Analysis

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all counts, arguing in substance that the Resistance line of helmets, the FitLite line of helmets, and the HT11K helmet (the “disputed helmets”) are not “Products” as that term is defined by the Agreement. Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment seeking a declaratory ruling that (1) the term “Product, ” as defined by the Agreement, includes a hockey helmet even if only 30% of the design of the shell of that helmet is based on the Hefter Shell Design, and (2) the contract is to be interpreted by resorting to standard principles of contract interpretation under Massachusetts law.

         1. Motions Concerning Contract Interpretation

         Defendant's motion for summary judgment and the first part of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment turn on whether the Court accepts each party's preferred interpretation of the term “Product” under the contract. As to both motions, there is a threshold question of whether the interpretation of that term is properly left to the Court or the jury.

         “Contract interpretation questions, under Massachusetts law, are ordinarily questions of law for a court.” Nadherny v. Roseland Prop. Co., Inc., 390 F.3d 44, 48 (1st Cir. 2004). However, where a contract presents an ambiguous term, the meaning of that term “often, but not always, presents a question of fact for a jury.” Id.[1]

         “Contract language is ambiguous ‘where the phraseology can support a reasonable difference of opinion as to the meaning of the words employed and the obligations undertaken.'” President & Fellows of Harvard Coll. v. PECO Energy Co., 57 Mass.App.Ct. 888, 896 (2003) (quoting Suffolk Const. Co. v. Lanco Scaffolding Co., 47 Mass.App.Ct. 726, 729 (1999)). The determination as to whether a contract term is ambiguous is a question of law for the court. Bank v. Thermo Elemental Inc., 451 Mass. 638, 648 (2008). In making that determination, courts must first look to the language of the agreement without regard to extrinsic evidence. Id. If an ambiguity is found, “the meaning of the uncertain provision becomes a question of fact for the trier.” Browning-Ferris Indus., Inc. v. Casella Waste Mgmt. of Massachusetts, Inc., 79 Mass.App.Ct. 300, 307 (2011). The fact-finder may consult extrinsic evidence to determine the intent of the parties in using a particular term. Id.

         The parties' Agreement provides for royalties on the sale of any “Product.” As relevant here, “Product” is defined under the Agreement to mean, “a hockey helmet that incorporates the Shell Design.” (Agreement § 2.14). “Shell Design, ” in turn, is defined to mean “the design shown in [a schematic attached to the Agreement], including the ornamental design and ...


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