In an increasingly complex and tech-driven world, legal cases are becoming correspondingly more involved and, in some situations, time-sensitive. Often, business and commercial disputes may require more individualized attention and speedy resolutions than are readily available. What recourse do litigants have in these situations?
The Business Litigation Session of the Superior Court, or BLS, was formed in 1999 for this purpose. We spoke to Chief Justice of the Superior Court Barbara Rouse, who told us that there was desire in the legal community to have a business session in Massachusetts where a judge would give individualized and extensive attention to cases. “The idea was to create a forum to resolve commercial disputes efficiently and develop a body of law that would provide guidance to the bar and the business community,” Chief Justice Rouse explained.
She added that since October 2000, shortly after it was formally established, 3,950 cases have been filed before the BLS, and 3,698 have been disposed. To break that down those numbers, that’s an average of over 282 cases filed per year and over 264 disposed. Those statistics alone illustrate the demand for this court session and the fact that many are choosing to bring their cases to it.
Here is a quick overview of the BLS structure and an explanation for how this session works advantageously for litigants:
- There are two full-time sessions of the BLS. Each of these is presided over by two judges, who commit to the session for a period of years and evenly divide the time they sit in the session. According to Chief Justice Rouse, the BLS therefore provides continuity and consistency for all its cases, especially those that require the most judicial oversight.
- The judges’ written opinions explaining their reasoning are accessible through the Social Law Library for practitioners to read. This helps to promote continuity by providing litigants with access to precedents from prior holdings.
- Cases heard in the BLS include shareholder derivative claims, business torts, intellectual property and insurance coverage disputes, and claims arising from the sale of assets, corporate mergers, and restrictive covenants in employment agreements.
- Because there is a fixed staff team in place to attend to the BLS – including a court clerk and staff attorney – and fewer cases appear in the session, decisions can often be made on a shorter timeframe than would be otherwise possible.
- Within a few months of a complaint being filed, a judge will confer with counsel to develop the schedule for the progression of the case. Chief Justice Rouse told us that the BLS is committed to issuing final adjudications on even the most complex cases in two to three years or less, depending on the litigants and counsel.
As is evident by the number of cases that have appeared before the BLS since its inception, practitioners see the advantages of the session. Erin Higgins, a partner at Conn Kavanaugh who frequently practices before the BLS, emphasized that “because your case will be handled by only two judges, if there is a repeated need for judicial assistance, the judge will remember the case, the key issues, and the attorneys involved.” She also pointed out that the firm deadlines for fact discovery, expert discovery, dispositive motions, and trial make it easier to budget for litigation costs and block off time for important court dates on witnesses’ schedules.
We would also like to highlight a pilot program instituted in the past two years which allows for automatic discovery without the need for specific requests for information, another feature that makes the BLS cost-effective and efficient. The judge of the session works closely with the litigants, allowing even a teleconference or immediate court appearance without the need for motion practice, which promotes more streamlined and timely discovery. To quote Chief Justice Rouse: “The BLS judges understand the costs inherent in complex business litigation and their responsibility to help manage the pre-trial process…they understand that discovery disputes will arise in these cases, especially around electronic discovery issues, and are committed to assisting counsel in promptly resolving them so that the case does not bog down.” Once more, expediency and efficiency are the main priorities of the BLS.
Those involved with the BLS are highly confident that it will be able to respond to the changing needs of the legal system even as newer technologies and increasingly complex cases emerge. Robert Muldoon, Chair of the BLS Advisory Committee, says that he sees the BLS continuing to grow in the future as the judges are very conscious of the need for expeditious discovery. As Chair, he convenes meetings of the Committee that connect lawyers and judges to review current operations and implement changes to help the BLS run even more smoothly. “The judges really have a handle on how to meet the challenges to civil litigation that are presented by the evolving world of electronics,” he explained. “Overall, the BLS is important to the Massachusetts court system because it presents a highly available venue where commercial cases can be assured of a viable track for getting a speedy disposition in these complex matters.”
We view the BLS as a hallmark of the innovation and cognizance of the Trial Court to further its ability to serve practitioners and justice effectively. When the need for a different forum to manage specific types of cases arose, the court worked to address it – with great success. We applaud the collaboration between different court departments, as well as between practitioners and judges, that has resulted in 15 years of careful adjudication in the BLS.