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Craw v. Hometown America, LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 8, 2019

BARBARA CRAW, et al., Plaintiffs,
HOMETOWN AMERICA, LLC, et al., Defendants.


          Leo T. Sorokin, United States District Judge.

         In this case, plaintiffs Barbara Craw and Joan Shurtleff allege, on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated current and former residents of two manufactured housing communities, that the defendants unlawfully refused to make necessary repairs to the infrastructure on their homesites, resulting in damage to their homes and dangerous conditions on their homesites. See generally Doc. No. 10. After the Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss in its entirety, Doc. No. 59, it then denied without prejudice the plaintiffs' then-pending motion for partial summary judgment because the Court's Order on the motion to dismiss addressed many of the issues it raised, Doc. No. 63. However, the Court allowed the plaintiffs to renew their motion before the end of discovery if they wished and established a schedule on which defendants could oppose the motion or file a Rule 56(d) affidavit demonstrating their need for discovery. Id. at 3. Now pending before the Court are plaintiffs' renewed motion for partial summary judgment, Doc. No. 74; plaintiffs' motion to amend the case management order, Doc. No. 64; and defendants' motion for a protective order, Doc. No. 84.

         I. Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

         A. Background

         In their timely renewed motion for partial summary judgment, Doc. No. 74, the plaintiffs seek summary judgment on Count I of the Amended Complaint, which alleges that the defendants' policy (“the Policy”) of shifting onto residents the burden of maintaining homesite infrastructure is “an unreasonable, unfair or unconscionable rule as contemplated by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 32L [the Manufactured Housing Act], as well as corresponding regulations, and Defendants' implementation of the Policy is an unfair or deceptive act or practice pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, § 2 [the Consumer Protection Act].” Doc. No. 10 ¶ 124. The Court has already held that the Manufactured Housing Act and the Attorney General's implementing regulations impose a duty upon defendants to make necessary homesite improvements and prohibits the imposition of that duty on residents. See Doc. No. 59 at 16. The plaintiffs argue that, because defendants withheld necessary homesite improvements under the Policy, they “deprived [plaintiffs] of the benefit of their respective bargains, such that all residents were paying rent each month for lawfully required services that they never received.” Doc. No. 75 at 9.

         Defendants then timely filed a Rule 56(d) affidavit and an accompanying memorandum, seeking additional discovery they argue is necessary to their opposition to the summary judgment motion. Doc. Nos. 76, 77. They seek expert discovery on the scope of their maintenance duties, party discovery on the nature of the plaintiffs' alleged injury, and third-party discovery on the Attorney General's regulations. Doc. No. 76 at 3-15. This discovery is necessary, they argue, to dispute plaintiffs' claims that defendants' failure to make necessary homesite improvements caused the plaintiffs to suffer a cognizable injury. Doc. No. 77 at 7-9.

         B. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant 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 dispute “is one on which the evidence would enable a reasonable jury to find the fact in favor of either party.” Perez v. Lorraine Enters., Inc., 769 F.3d 23, 29 (1st Cir. 2014). “A ‘material' fact is one that is relevant in the sense that it has the capacity to change the outcome of the jury's determination.” Id. (citation omitted). The Court is “obliged to view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor.” LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993). However, the Court must ignore “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Sullivan v. City of Springfield, 561 F.3d 7, 14 (1st Cir. 2009).

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d) provides that “[i]f a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may:

         (1) defer considering the motion or deny it; (2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or (3) issue any other appropriate order.” Id. 56(d). To obtain relief under Rule 56(d), a litigant must provide

a timely statement-if not by affidavit, then in some other authoritative manner- that (i) explains his or her current inability to adduce the facts essential to filing an opposition, (ii) provides a plausible basis for believing that the sought-after facts can be assembled within a reasonable time, and (iii) indicates how those facts would influence the outcome of the pending summary judgment motion.

Velez v. Awning Windows, Inc., 375 F.3d 35, 40 (1st Cir. 2004). “Even upon submission of the required materials, the district court is entitled to refuse a Rule 56(d) motion if it concludes that the party opposing summary judgment is unlikely to garner useful evidence from supplemental discovery.” Hicks v. Johnson, 755 F.3d 738, 743 (1st Cir. 2014). “Speculative assertions that the [moving party] has unspecified facts in its possession necessary for the [nonmoving party] to develop its legal theories coupled with conclusory statements that discovery should be commenced are entirely inadequate to extract the balm of Rule 56([d]).” C.B. Trucking, Inc. v. Waste Mgmt., Inc., 137 F.3d 41, 45 (1st Cir. 1998) (internal quotation omitted).

         C. Discussion

         A complaint under the Consumer Protection Act “must allege that the plaintiff has been ‘injured' by the act or practice claimed to be unfair or deceptive and therefore unlawful.” Tyler v. Michaels Stores, Inc., 984 N.E.2d 737, 744 (Mass. 2013). The plaintiff “must allege and ultimately prove that she has, as a result, suffered a distinct injury or harm that arises from the claimed unfair or deceptive act itself.” Id. at 746. Because of this requirement, “a claim that alleges only a ‘per se' injury-that is, a claim resting only on a deceptive practice, regulatory noncompliance, or the impairment of an abstract right without economic loss-is insufficient to state a Chapter 93A claim.” Shaulis v. Nordstrom, Inc., 865 F.3d 1, 10 (1st Cir. 2017) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Because the injury must result from ...

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