Morrison Mahoney partner Mike Leedberg of the Boston office recently obtained a directed verdict in Worcester Superior Court in favor of our client, the Harness Horsemen’s Association of New England, Inc. (HHANE).
HHANE is a voluntary, nonprofit association of those engaged in the profession of harness horse racing. Its stated corporate objective is to advance the profession as a whole, and it does so by proposing and lobbying for legislation, regulations and rules, in addition to negotiating on behalf of its members with the only harness horse racing track in the northeast, Plainridge Park Casino. HHANE negotiates with Plainridge on behalf of its members for such things as the use of the stables, purse sizes, and track conditions. Needing to negotiate in a single, unified voice, one of the membership requirements is that members must agree that HHANE the exclusive agent for the purpose of negotiating with Plainridge. Members are forbidden from negotiating with Plainridge individually and there is language to that effect on the membership applications.
The plaintiffs were longtime HHANE members and, indeed, sat on HHANE’s Board of Directors together until 2016. In 2017, they decided that they did not approve of the job HHANE’s President was doing when negotiating with Plainridge, so for the 2018 racing season, they attempted to quietly cross off the language on their HHANE annual renewal application making HHANE the exclusive agent for the purpose of negotiating with Plainridge. Apparently, they wanted the benefits of membership, but did not want to agree to the terms. HHANE noticed that the renewal applications were altered, rejected them and the plaintiffs were not accepted as members for the 2018 season. This break in membership, in turn, caused them to forfeit tens of thousands of dollars that they otherwise would have been eligible for through HHANE’s Retirement Savings Plan (RSP).
The plaintiffs sued HHANE for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, fraud and for violations of MGL 93A (section 11). We asserted a counterclaim for abuse of process. The negligence and the intentional infliction claims were dismissed on our Motion to Dismiss, but the remaining claims escaped summary judgment and went to trial. At the close of plaintiffs’ evidence, we moved for directed verdicts on all counts. Judge Kenton-Walker agreed with us that the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence to support that a contract existed, that HHANE committed fraud, or that the parties were engaged in commerce for the purpose of MGL 93A, section 11. The Court granted our Motion for Directed Verdict from the bench.