In a recent appeal of one of the largest verdicts returned in a condo- minium dispute, notwithstanding the egregious conduct of the defendants, in Wodinsky v. Kettenbach, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 825 (2015), the Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated the damages awarded to the plaintiffs pursuant to Chapter 93A, as the underly- ing unfair or deceptive acts or practices complained about were motivated by personal, rather than business, reasons.
Beginning in 2009, the defendants – individuals and their real es- tate management company which together owned four out of five condominium units in a building located in Boston -- attempted a series of imposturous schemes to force the plaintiffs out of their unit after they declined to sell it to the defendants. After the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs on most of their claims, the trial judge granted the defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict with respect to the damages awarded to the plaintiffs under Chapter 93A, as the complained about acts did not occur within a “trade or commerce.” The plaintiffs appealed, claiming the defendants, as principals of the real estate management company, were acting within the scope of the real estate management com- pany’s stated business purpose when they engaged in their unfair or deceptive acts.
The Appeals Court disagreed. The Appeals Court held, although the real estate management company was organized to “develop, own, construct, operate, finance and manage real property,” the underly- ing unfair and deceptive acts -- coercion, intimidation, threats, demands for excessive payments for the repair of the building’s roof, skylights, and heating systems, and replacing the entire eleva- tor system thereby depriving the elderly plaintiffs from using it for over 10 months -- committed by its principals all sprang from the defendants’ desire to acquire all five of the units in the condomini- um building and turn the building into a private residence for them- selves. Indeed, at trial the plaintiffs sought to prove the principals acted out of their own personal, self-interest. The plaintiffs intro- duced no evidence that the defendants planned to sell or rent any of the condominium units or that showed there was a commercial character to any of the complained about unfair or deceptive acts. Accordingly, the Court found the defendants’ actions were “primarily private in nature.” Thus, the plaintiffs were not entitled to relief under Chapter 93A.
This decision reaffirms, no matter how egregious the misconduct of a defendant, unfair or deceptive acts or practices which are private in nature will not find fertile ground under Chapter 93A.