Photo of Christos I. Koutrobis

Christos Koutrobis is an associate with the Complex Litigation Practice Group in MG+M’s Boston, Massachusetts office. He focuses his litigation practice on a variety of complex disputes, ranging from construction litigation to toxic tort liability.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently issued a decision in Doull v. Foster in which it adopted the “but-for” standard for causation in negligence cases. The Court held that the but-for test is the appropriate standard for Massachusetts courts to employ in the vast majority of negligence cases involving multiple alleged causes of harm, almost completely eliminating the substantial factor test for causation. It did, however, carve out from that standard cases with multiple sufficient causes, such as asbestos and other toxic tort matters, due to the difficulty in establishing “which particular exposures were necessary to bring about the harm.” [Doull at p. 14]. The Court did, however, leave open the possibility that it may also replace the “substantial factor” test in those cases as well.  This potential for a new rule has created tremendous uncertainty as to the appropriate causation standard for toxic tort cases in Massachusetts moving forward.

Continue Reading Supreme Judicial Court Adopts But-for Causation Test in Most Negligence Cases and Its Impact on Toxic Tort Litigation

On July 15, 2020, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a Superior Court decision allowing the Defendants’ motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) with respect to the Plaintiff’s employment-based claims stemming from an alleged constructive discharge brought against Lowell General Hospital and the Plaintiff’s supervisors. Kelleher v. Lowell General Hospital, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 49 (2020). The Plaintiff’s complaint involved allegations of: (1) constructive discharge; (2) defamation; (3) intentional interference with advantageous business relations; (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (5) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The Plaintiff claimed that she endured months of intolerable working conditions at Lowell General Hospital, which she described as “daily, unprovoked angry and humiliating outbursts” and that these conditions ultimately led to her resignation, which constituted constructive discharge. The Plaintiff identified three specific occurrences in which she was berated or humiliated by her supervisor in front of co-workers and patients. Two of the instances were connected to scheduling issues and the last outburst was in response to Plaintiff’s inability to help her supervisor with a patient because she was busy with her own work. The third incident involved Plaintiff’s supervisor allegedly shouting “you never help!” in front of patients and co-workers.

Constructive discharge does not constitute a distinct cause of action under Massachusetts law, but can be an element of a viable wrongful termination employment claim stemming from a well-defined public policy or a contractual right. The Plaintiff was an “at-will employee,” defined as an employment relationship in which either the employer or employee may terminate the employment at any time without cause, for any reason, except for a reason proscribed by statute or public policy. M.G.L. c. 151B et seq.; Fortune v. National Cash Register Co., 373 Mass. 96, 101 (1977); Wright v. Shriners Hosp. for Crippled Children, 412 Mass. 469, 472 (1992). Well-established Massachusetts law, continually affirmed by Massachusetts appellate courts, demonstrates that an at-will employee can be terminated at any time “for almost any reason or for no reason at all.”[1]

The Plaintiff’s defamation claim failed because the two statements described in the Plaintiff’s complaint, consisting of “you never help!” and “I’m done with her,” were found to be either a subjective state of mind or “rhetorical hyperbole,” that cannot be reasonably understood to be a statement of actual fact or one that implies defamatory facts. A viable defamation claim requires a plaintiff to show that: (1) a false statement was made to a third party; (2) of and concerning the plaintiff; that (3) is capable of damaging plaintiff’s reputation in the community; and (4) either caused plaintiff economic loss or is actionable without proof of economic loss.

The elements of a claim for intentional tortious interference with advantageous business relations are: (1) the plaintiff had a contract or advantageous business relationship with a third party; (2) the defendant knowingly induced the third party to break the contract or to forego the business relations; (3) the defendant’s interference was improper in
Continue Reading Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of Non-Discriminatory Workplace Bullying Case

MG+M The Law Firm (“MG+M”) Boston Attorneys Jennifer Whelan, Brian Gross, and Christos Koutrobis successfully obtained summary judgment for their client in a wrongful death case brought in the Superior Court of New Hampshire, Grafton County.

Plaintiff’s decedent was struck and killed by a motor vehicle while crossing a New Hampshire highway towards a newly constructed store owned by MG+M’s client (the “Client”). Prior to the construction of the new store, there was a crosswalk at or near the location in the highway where the Plaintiff’s decedent was struck and killed. The crosswalk was removed as part of the construction project, so that a turn lane into the store could be created. The client and its contractors proposed to replace the crosswalk, but the New Hampshire Department of Transportation determined that the crosswalk should not be replaced, based on its judgment that the crosswalk location created an unreasonable risk to pedestrians. Plaintiff argued it was foreseeable that pedestrians would continue to cross the highway to access the store at the location of the old crosswalk and the client owed Plaintiff’s decedent a duty to either construct an alternative pedestrian pathway across the highway or to warn pedestrians that crossing the highway at that location was no longer authorized.

In her opposition to the Client’s summary judgment motion, Plaintiff argued it was foreseeable to the Client that pedestrians would cross the highway to access its store, thereby creating a duty on the part of the Client. In doing do so, Plaintiff sought to rely upon the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision in Kellner v. Lowney, 145 N.H. 195 (2000), which held that a landowner owed a duty to a person crossing a state highway under a unique set of circumstances. In rejecting Plaintiff’s argument, the judge noted that Kellner was factually distinguishable in several significant respects, including: 1) the defendant owned and operated a motel with facilities on both sides of the highway; 2) the defendant permitted religious services to be conducted on the opposite side of the highway from where the motel guests’ living quarters were located; and 3) the plaintiff’s son was struck by a motor vehicle while crossing the highway to return to his living quarters after attending religious services. As distinguished from Kellner, the Client’s premises is located on only one side of the highway and no special relationship existed between it and the Plaintiff’s decedent, unlike the special innkeeper-guest relationship that was present in Kellner. The Court agreed with MG+M’s arguments and granted the Client’s motion for summary judgment.

This practical view and application of classic reasonableness standards affirms the general rule that a landowner’s duty typically does not extend past its boundary lines. Further, the decision highlights the State’s sole authority to make design changes on its roadways. While private individuals and corporations will continue to make design changes to state roadways and intersections, those changes are subject to the approval of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which remains the ultimate
Continue Reading MG+M Obtains Judgment for Client in Traffic Engineering Wrongful Death Lawsuit

 MG+M Boston Attorneys Kevin Hadfield and Christos Koutrobis successfully obtained judgment on the pleadings for its client in Shepard v. AG Realty Investment, LLC, WWM-CV18-6014773-S, a personal injury case brought in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Putnam.

Plaintiff, a police officer, was attacked and bitten by a dog while executing a search warrant at an apartment building owned by MG+M’s client. In his complaint, Plaintiff stated that the dog was owned by a friend of the landowner’s tenant. Plaintiff claimed that the landowner should nevertheless be held liable because he was aware of, but did nothing to quell, significant alleged criminal activity on the premises. The alleged criminal activity resulted in Plaintiff’s need to be present on the property in his official capacity as well as the subsequent dog bite. Plaintiff asserted premises liability negligence claims in his complaint.

MG+M moved to strike the Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim. As grounds for its motion, MG+M argued that pursuant to the common law “firefighter’s rule,” a landowner owes no duty of care to a first responder that enters the premises within the scope of his official duties. In fact, the Connecticut Supreme Court has made clear that “under the firefighter’s rule, the landowner generally owes the firefighter or police officer injured on his property only the duty not to injure him willfully or wantonly . . . .” Levandovski v. Cone, 267 Conn. 653, 654 (2004) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Plaintiff opposed MG+M’s motion, asserting that the claims were based on principles of “ordinary” negligence, rather than premises negligence, and were therefore excluded from the protections afforded by the firefighter’s rule. Plaintiff attempted to draw parallels between his case and Sepega v. DeLaura, 326 Conn. 788 (2017), in which the Connecticut Supreme Court permitted a case sounding in ordinary negligence to proceed against a landowner that actively barricaded himself into a house, forcing the officer to break the door down, resulting in injuries. The Superior Court rejected Plaintiff’s comparison, and held that the Sepega Defendant’s “active” negligence created an immediate hazard for the Plaintiff who had already entered the premises, which was distinguishable from the “passive” defective premises negligence allegations set forth in Plaintiff’s complaint.

In its memorandum of decision granting MG+M’s motion, the Court highlighted Plaintiff’s failure to allege that AG Realty had any knowledge of the presence of the dog that allegedly attacked the Plaintiff and also failed to assert factual allegations that would suggest willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the defendant. The Court struck plaintiff’s complaint and entered judgment on the stricken complaint in MG+M’s favor.

This common-sense application of the “firefighter’s rule” affirms the protections afforded to landowners from lawsuits by first responders, who may enter their premises at any time, from any direction, without invitation or warning, and without prior notice and opportunity to the landowner to remedy potential defects on the property. The rule prevents landowners from being held to an
Continue Reading MG+M Obtains Judgment for Landlord in Personal Injury Lawsuit Filed by Police Officer

MG+M Boston Attorneys Eric Skelly and Christos Koutrobis successfully obtained dismissals for two clients in James T. Casey, Jr. v. Apax Partners et al., 1:18-cv-11211-DJC, a case that was pending at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. On behalf of MG+M’s foreign client, a motion to dismiss for improper service and lack of personal jurisdiction was granted by Judge Casper. MG+M navigated a voluntary dismissal for its other client through the discovery process by demonstrating, based on the evidence, that the client was not liable for the product at issue.

Plaintiff alleged in his lawsuit that he was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet as part of his pre-trial probation. In his complaint, he stated that the bracelet wrongfully indicated that he was outside of the approved geographic area, which resulted in two days of imprisonment. As such, he brought forth claims against the defendants under the Massachusetts’ consumer protection laws as well as claims for design defect and negligence.

In its decision on defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court highlighted Plaintiff’s allegation that the defendant, a foreign entity, was liable because its unidentified affiliate assumed the rights and liabilities of the former manufacturer of the electronic monitoring bracelet. The Court noted that even if the Plaintiff established that this affiliate conducted activities in Massachusetts that would subject it to the Court’s jurisdiction, Plaintiff still would need to prove that the affiliate’s conduct could be imputed to the foreign entity by “piercing the corporate veil.” Under Massachusetts law, corporations are presumed to be separate entities. To ignore corporate separateness a party must demonstrate: 1) “active and direct participation by the representatives of one corporation, apparently exercising some form of pervasive control, in the activities of another and there is some fraudulent or injurious consequence of the intercorporate relationship;” or 2) “a confused intermingling of activity of two or more corporations engaged in a common enterprise with substantial disregard of the separate nature of the corporate entities, or serious ambiguity about the manner and capacity in which the various corporations and their respective representatives are acting.” My Bread Baking Co. v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 353 Mass. 614, 619 (1968). Plaintiff attempted to satisfy these requirements through evidence that suggested the foreign entity merely advised its unidentified affiliate during the acquisition of the electronic monitoring business. The Court, however, held that this evidence fell short of the threshold to disregard corporate separateness and “pierce the corporate veil.” Accordingly, the Court held that it did not have personal jurisdiction over the foreign entity.

This decision reinforces the long-standing principle of corporate separateness and should be beneficial to foreign defendants challenging personal jurisdiction in the future.
Continue Reading MG+M Obtains Dismissals in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts for Two Clients in Defective Electronic Monitoring Bracelet Case