Appeals Court Clarifies Plaintiffs' Pleading Burden In G.L. c. 93A, § 11 "Center Of Gravity" Cases

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Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A § 11 allows corporate plaintiffs to recover up to treble damages and attorneys fees from defendants who engage in unfair or deceptive trade practices. To invoke this powerful statute, however, the plaintiff must show that "the center of gravity of the circumstances that give rise to the claim is primarily and substantially within the Commonwealth." Kuwaiti Danish Comput. Co. v. Digital Equip. Corp., 438 Mass. 459, 473 (2003). A court will determine whether a plaintiff has done so "after making findings of fact, and after considering those findings in the context of the entire [Chapter 93A] § 11 claim." Id.

The Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure provide two primary opportunities for a defendant to test the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's claims, such as one brought under Chapter 93A: (1) a motion to dismiss, which takes the plaintiff's allegations as true and tests whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim; and (2) summary judgment, which takes the facts discovered and established during litigation in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and tests whether the case should be dismissed as a matter of law.

While the "center of gravity" test for Chapter 93A claims sounds like the sort of threshold a plaintiff would need to meet in its initial complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently held that the question was more suited to summary judgment, particularly where the alleged loss took place in Massachusetts and other facts alleged tied the dispute to the Commonwealth. See Resolute Mgmt., Inc. v. Transatlantic Reins. Co., 87 Mass.App.Ct. 296, 300-01 (2015). Given "the multiple factors to be applied, and the nuanced and flexible approach to assessing them" the Appeals Court reasoned, "...we find it difficult to imagine how such an assessment might be made on the basis of the allegations of the complaint alone," which is how courts decide motions to dismiss. See id. Finding "no rule" compelling a Chapter 93A, § 11 plaintiff to "plead facts with particularity sufficient to withstand a claim by the defendant that the center of gravity of his claim is not within the Commonwealth," the Appeals Court held that the plaintiff's basic allegations connecting the Chapter 93A claim to Massachusetts was enough for the plaintiff's claim to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 300. "[D]iscovery and development of a factual record" instead would allow a judge to make the "center of gravity" analysis at summary judgment. See id. at 301.

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