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Devona v. Zeitels

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 6, 2017

DENNIS R. DEVONA, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN M. ZEITELS, Defendant. STEVEN M. ZEITELS, M.D., and ENDOCRAFT LLC, Counterclaim Plaintiffs,
v.
DENNIS R. DEVONA, Counterclaim Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Indira Talwani United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendant Steven M. Zeitels' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or New Trial, to Alter and Amend the Judgment, and Other Relief [#285], seeking judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), or a new trial, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59, and other relief. For the reasons set forth herein, Zeitels' request for judgment as a matter of law is GRANTED. I. Introduction This case involved the fallout of two friends-Plaintiff Dennis R. DeVona and Defendant Zeitels. The men worked together for more than a decade but their endeavors eventually ended.

         In April 2013, DeVona filed a complaint for, inter alia, declaratory relief under the Rhode Island Uniform Partnership Act, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. Compl. [#1].[1]

         Following a nine-day trial, the jury returned a verdict, finding as relevant here that:

• DeVona and Zeitels entered into a legal partnership;
• In 2011, Zeitels breached a fiduciary duty arising from that partnership; and
• Zeitels breached the partnership agreement from 1998-2011.

         Jury Verdict [#270].[2] The jury awarded DeVona $395, 907.00 for the breach of fiduciary duty, and $352, 007.00 for the breach of partnership. The court entered judgment consistent with the jury's verdict. J. [#279].

         The present motion followed.[3]

         II. Factual Background

         Construed in DeVona's favor, the facts as the jury could find them are as follows.

         DeVona is a craftsman with a variety of skill sets in design and manufacture. Zeitels is a surgeon specializing in cancers of the throat. DeVona first met Zeitels in the 1990's when both men attended various auctions. Their friendship grew over time as both shared interests in various arts and crafts, to the point that DeVona served as the officiant of Zeitels' wedding.

         In 1994, Zeitels mentioned to DeVona that he (Zeitels) was exploring the possibility of manufacturing a medical instrument. Tr. Day Two [#301] (“Day 2”) 24. Zeitels asked DeVona whether DeVona would be interested in “quarterbacking” the project, as Zeitels had neither the time nor experience to involve himself with the actual manufacture or development of a medical instrument. Day 2, pp. 25-26. DeVona resisted the idea at first.

         In August 1997, Zeitels called DeVona and asked whether DeVona would be interested in starting a company. DeVona agreed to meet with Zeitels at Zeitels' home, where Zeitels showed DeVona various medical instruments. Day 2, pp. 27-29. Zeitels demonstrated the progress he had made thus far in his design, and DeVona thereafter began to research the feasibility of entering into business with Zeitels. The men had another meeting at Zeitels' house, where they struck a deal whereby Zeitels “would put up the money, ” DeVona “would put up the energy and work it would take, ” and the men would “try and knock it out in 12 months”-“it” being somewhat vaguely defined, [4] but including at least (i) “[going] forward with a business”; (ii) quickly selling “whatever [DeVona and Zeitels] developed”; and “develop[ing] a surgical instrument or surgical instruments, that [DeVona and Zeitels] would sell the intellectual property to the highest bidder as soon as [they] could.” Day 2, pp. 32-34. They agreed to split the endeavor on a 60%-40% basis, with the larger share going to Zeitels. The men opened a bank account to finance the endeavor, and DeVona set to work helping to develop several iterations of a prototype for a laryngoscope.

         By early 1999, the men had developed a prototype they thought sufficient to offer to medical device manufacturers. Day 2, p. 118. They met with “ACT Medical” in Boston, where they learned it was financially infeasible to employ a surgical instrument manufacturer as a ...


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