Morrison Mahoney associate Kevin Buono briefed successful arguments on behalf of the defense bar in an appeal taken by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in Kingara v. Secure Home Health Care Inc., SJC-13173, and decided on March 28. The appeal involved a putative class action by a home health aide against his employer under the state Wage Act, Minimum Fair Wage Law, and Overtime Law on behalf of himself and other similarly-situated healthcare employees, and tested important questions for treatment of class action cases in Massachusetts. During the pendency of the litigation in trial court, and prior to class certification, the class representative passed away, causing his attorney to file a motion with the trial court to issue notices to all members of the putative class, inviting them to come forward to replace the deceased plaintiff as representative of the putative class. The trial court acquiesced and an immediate appeal of the decision was taken to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The SJC, recognizing the importance of the issues at play, decided to take and hear the appeal for itself, and solicited briefs from amicus curiae on the issues implicated in the appeal.
Kevin briefed the appeal on behalf of amicus curiae, the Massachusetts Defense Lawyer’s Association, and argued that the class representative’s attorney lacked any power to act on behalf of the putative class without a representative, and that the trial court erred in ordering the issuance of notices to other putative class members under the circumstances. In a unanimous opinion authored by Associate Justice David Lowy, the SJC acknowledged Kevin’s brief, and agreed with its arguments, concluding that class counsel could not seek relief on behalf of absent class members because his relationship with them was “too attenuated to vest in counsel an obligation or authority to act on behalf of the class.” The SJC further agreed with Kevin that the trial court erred in ordering notices absent any finding that the other members of the putative class would suffer prejudice if notices were not given. The SJC remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings, concluding in an important holding that “it is a clear abuse of discretion to [order notices] without finding that putative class members would face significant prejudice absent such notice.”