Summary Judgment Affirmed by Appeals Court in Oil Spill Case

Attorney Matthew Lindberg successfully obtained summary judgment on behalf of an oil company in a case arising from an oil spill at the plaintiffs’ residence.  Following the spill, remediation work was performed by several contractors, but the plaintiffs were not satisfied with the remediation work and brought suit against the oil delivery company, the remediation contractors and the engineering firm seeking damages. Several days into trial, the parties entered into a detailed settlement agreement wherein the plaintiffs received $310,000 and a promise by the contractors to complete additional remediation work. The settlement agreement made specific performance the only remedy should a party become dissatisfied with the work and stated that “[t]he house shall not be demolished as a part of the remediation.”  However, after the remediation work was completed and despite the restriction to specific performance, the plaintiffs demolished the house and brought a second action seeking monetary damages for negligence and violations of M.G.L. c. 93A.

On behalf of the oil company, Attorney Lindberg filed a Motion to Dismiss the second action based on the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.  The other defendants did the same. The court granted all motions to dismiss.  On appeal, the dismissals of the claims against the oil company and one other defendant were vacated.  Those claims were remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings to determine whether the plaintiffs had legitimate grounds to seek damages as a substitute remedy for specific performance.

On remand, the plaintiffs maintained that some remediation work was so inadequate that specific performance was not available and they had no choice other than to demolish their home.  The defendants moved for summary judgment claiming that the plaintiffs were not entitled to monetary damages as a substitute for specific performance where the plaintiffs elected to demolish the home without good cause, without giving notice of their intention to do so and in violation of the settlement agreement.   The Superior Court agreed with the defendants and granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding, in part, that “[o]ne who prevents the performance of a contract cannot take advantage of its nonperformance.”   The plaintiffs appealed the Superior Court’s decision.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court conducted a de novo review of the record and discerned no error of law or abuse of discretion.  The Appeals Court affirmed summary judgment on behalf of the defendants.  Further, the Appeals Court granted Attorney Lindberg’s request for attorney’s fees incurred in defense of the appeal.