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Yanis v. Paquin

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

September 26, 2019

Hermis YANIS, Jr.
Keith PAQUIN & another[1] ; Vincent Masterson, Third-Party Defendant.

         Argued January 10, 2019

          Practice, Civil, Counterclaim and cross-claim, Judgment, Entry of judgment. Contribution Among Tortfeasors . Indemnity .

          CIVIL ACTION commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 15, 2013. A motion for entry of separate and final judgment was heard by Janet Kenton-Walker, J.

         Gerald T. Anglin, Boston, (Lauren Plante also present) for Keith Paquin.

         Stephen R. Anderson, Cambridge, for Sclamo’s Appliance & Furniture, Inc.

         Present: Vuono, Meade, & Rubin, JJ.


         VUONO, J.

         In this appeal we consider the propriety of the certification and entry of a separate and final judgment under Mass. R. Civ. P. 54(b), 365 Mass. 820 (1974), following the settlement by the plaintiff of his claims against one of the defendants in a personal injury action.

          The following background emerges from the record materials before us, consisting mostly of the pleadings. The plaintiff, Hermis Yanis, Jr., was a tenant in an apartment building that was owned and managed by the defendant, Keith Paquin. When Yanis moved into his apartment, Paquin informed him that the natural gas stove did not work and that he should select a new one from defendant Sclamo’s Appliance & Furniture, Inc. (Sclamo’s). Once Paquin ascertained the cost of removing and disposing of the old stove, however, he decided to have it repaired rather than replace it. At Paquin’s request, an employee of Sclamo’s, allegedly the third-party defendant Vincent Masterson, went to Yanis’s apartment on three separate occasions to make the repairs. It is disputed whether the employee was acting on his own behalf or as an employee of Sclamo’s when he worked on the stove. After the final visit, the employee told Yanis that the stove had been fixed and was operational. One morning shortly thereafter, Yanis discovered that the stove’s pilot light had gone out, he attempted to relight it, there was an explosion, and Yanis severely burned his right hand.

         On November 15, 2013, Yanis filed a complaint in the Superior Court against both Paquin and Sclamo’s. With regard to Paquin, Yanis asserted claims of negligence, vicarious liability for Sclamo’s negligence, breach of the implied warranty of habitability, and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Against Sclamo’s, Yanis asserted claims of negligence, breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary, violation of G. L. c. 93A, and strict liability. Paquin filed an answer to Yanis’s complaint in which he neither admitted nor denied that he had entered into a contract with Sclamo’s to repair the stove. Paquin also asserted a cross claim against Sclamo’s for contribution (as a joint tortfeasor) and for indemnification (based on vicarious liability). Sclamo’s, in turn, filed an answer to Paquin’s cross claim as well as its own cross claim against Paquin for contribution and for indemnification.[2]

         Yanis and Sclamo’s subsequently reached a settlement whereby Yanis received a payment of $15,000, and he executed a release of any and all claims he may have had against Sclamo’s.[3] With Yanis’s assent, Sclamo’s filed a motion for entry of a separate and final judgment pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 54(b).[4] Relying on Long v. Wickett, 50 Mass.App.Ct. 380, 737 N.E.2d 885 (2000), Paquin opposed the motion on the grounds that there were no exceptional and compelling circumstances warranting relief under rule 54(b), that his cross claim against Sclamo’s for indemnification substantially overlapped the settled claims, and that an indemnification claim, unlike a contribution claim, was not extinguished by the settlement pursuant to G. L. c. 231B, � 4(b).[5]

         Following a hearing, a judge approved the settlement and ordered the entry of a separate and final judgment that dismissed Yanis’s complaint against Sclamo’s but did not on its face address the cross claims.[6] In her memorandum of decision on Sclamo’s motion, the judge properly acknowledged that G. L. c. 231B, � 4(b), which discharges the tortfeasor to whom a good faith release is given from all liability for contribution to any other tortfeasor, does not "impair any right of indemnity under existing law." G. L. c. 231B, � 1(e). Nonetheless, the judge stated that Paquin was not entitled to indemnification from Sclamo’s because, as she put it, Paquin was "not without fault" for Yanis’s injuries.[7]

         The present appeal by Paquin ensued.[8] Paquin contends that the judge erred in certifying the entry of the separate and final judgment for Sclamo’s. He asserts that such relief was not appropriate where his cross claim overlapped factually and legally with Yanis’s dismissed claims against Sclamo’s, and where the judge did not make an express finding that there was no just reason for delay. Because we agree with Paquin’s arguments, we vacate the certification and entry of the ...

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