Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority v. Boston and Maine Corporation, et al. (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-124-17)

No. 17-00153-BLS1
Plaintiff, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), filed this action for
declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants, Boston and Maine Corporation, Springfield
Terminal Railway Company, and Pan Am Southern LLC (referred to collectively as “Pan Am”).
The dispute involves the implementation of positive train control (PTC), a safety system aimed at
preventing train accidents. Pan Am alleged eleven counterclaims against the MBTA. MBTA
now moves to dismiss three of the counterclaims pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The
three counterclaims allege misrepresentation (Count VIII), promissory/equitable estoppel (Count
IX), and violation of G.L. c. 93A, § 11 (Count X). For the reasons stated below, the MBTA’s
motion to dismiss is allowed.
The facts as revealed by Pan Am’s counterclaims are as follows.
The MBTA is a body politic and corporate and a political subdivision of the
1 Springfield Terminal Railway Company and Pan Am Southern LLC.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It operates bus, subway, commuter rail, and ferry systems in
and around Boston, Massachusetts. The Pan Am defendants operate freight lines over tracks
that, in some instances, are owned and/or used by the MBTA.
Since 2010, Pan Am worked closely and cooperatively with the MBTA to plan and
prepare for the implementation of PTC on tracks over which both parties operate. The parties
worked to comply with a 2008 federal mandate requiring that PTC be implemented on certain
rail lines, including lines that carry certain minimum levels of passenger traffic. PTC is designed
to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments resulting from excessive speed, and other types of
accidents. Generally, PTC uses a combination of on-board and rail-side technology to track and
control train movements on the rail lines outfitted with this technology. In this dispute, the rail
lines affected include both MBTA-owned trackage, over which Pan Am operates freight trains
pursuant to a reserved freight easement, and Pan Am-owned trackage, over which the MBTA
initiated and expanded commuter rail operations at the end of 2016.
According to Pan Am, under federal law, PTC must be implemented on the rail lines at
issue because the MBTA operates passenger trains on them. Absent the MBTA’s use of these
rail lines, no PTC system is required. In addition, freight trains may not operate on tracks
handling passenger traffic that are required to have PTC unless those freight trains are equipped
with a PTC system that is compatible with the commuter rail’s PTC system.
After the federal government imposed the 2008 PTC requirements, Pan Am alleges that
the MBTA agreed that the MBTA would implement a dual-type PTC system on the jointly used
tracks. The MBTA wanted to use Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC, a
type of PTC that Amtrak uses on some MBTA tracks, but is generally not used for freight
operations. Throughout the country, freight rail operators almost exclusively use Interoperable
Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) PTC, a different type of PTC that is allegedly
more sophisticated and dynamic. Interstate freight trains exclusively equipped with I-ETMS
PTC are not able to pass over jointly used trackage if the MBTA only implements ACSES PTC.
Thus, it is alleged that the MBTA acknowledged that it needed to outfit the jointly used trackage
with I-ETMS PTC so that the MBTA’s own operations would not unduly interfere with Pan
Am’s operations.
In a 2010 filing with the Federal Railroad Administration, the MBTA described its plans
to implement a dual ACSES and I-ETMS PTC system. In 2010, Pan Am and the MBTA
discussed and agreed that the MBTA would implement a dual-type PTC system at the MBTA’s
expense. According to Pan Am, the MBTA was obligated to implement a dual-type PTC system
under a 1976 Deed and a 2011 Trackage Rights Agreement, which mandate that the MBTA is
responsible for ensuring, at the MBTA’s expense, that the MBTA’s services or operations do not
interfere with or impede Pan Am’s operations.
In reliance on the MBTA’s plans to implement a dual system, Pan Am waived a Capacity
Study as an accommodation to the MBTA. The study would have cost hundreds of thousands of
dollars and taken months to complete. A Capacity Study, however, would have demonstrated the
need for a dual PTC system to accommodate the MBTA’s commuter rail services without
unreasonably interfering with Pan Am’s freight services.
In July of 2014, the MBTA and Pan Am entered into an “Agreement for Pan Am
Southern to Support the MBTA Wachusett Extension Project.” This agreement detailed certain
construction necessary for the initiation of new commuter rail service on the Fitchburg commuter
rail line called the Wachusett extension. The agreement referenced the parties’ intention to
memorialize the final details of an agreed upon PTC system in a 2014 PTC agreement. Shortly
thereafter, the parties memorialized the final details of the PTC system in a 2014 PTC Agreement
in which the MBTA committed to install both an ACSES and I-ETMS PTC system on shared
trackage, as necessary, to allow both passenger and freight trains to operate without undue
interference. The MBTA’s General Manager, Beverly A. Scott, and the MBTA’s General
Counsel, Paige Scott Reed, signed the 2014 PTC Agreement. Both individuals expressly
represented to Pan Am that approval by the MBTA’s Board was not required. The 2014 PTC
Agreement provided for, among other things, “the installation of an ACSES PTC wayside system
on all portions of the jointly used rail lines, installation of an I-ETMS PTC wayside system on
certain specified sections of the jointly used rail lines, and the equipping of a specified number of
. . . [Pan Am’s] locomotives with ACSES compatible on-board systems and a specified number
of . . . [Pan Am’s] locomotives with I-ETMS compatible on-board systems.” Counterclaims at
After signing the 2014 PTC Agreement and until late 2016, the MBTA and Pan Am
worked cooperatively towards implementing the terms of the agreement. After the MBTA
completed construction work on the Wachusett extension, on September 30, 2016, Pan Am
permitted the MBTA to initiate limited commuter rail service on the new line (two round trips
per day). The MBTA planned to offer full commuter rail service shortly thereafter.
On October 26, 2016, however, once the MBTA initiated limited service and publicly
announced its planned expansion of the Wachusett extension, the MBTA “made an abrupt and
stunning reversal.” Counterclaims at 22, 39. Despite the 2014 PTC Agreement and public
representations, the MBTA announced to Pan Am that it was disavowing the 2014 PTC
Agreement. The MBTA refused to install the I-ETMS PTC system on shared trackage. The
MBTA sought to install only the ACSES PTC system, which means, according to Pan Am, that it
will be unable to use the shared trackage without substantial and prohibitive interference, delays,
and costs.
Pan Am asserts contract claims against the MBTA seeking to require the MBTA to install
both the I-ETMS and ACSES PTC systems on the shared trackage. Under the 2014 PTC
Agreement, the MBTA’s obligations are express and specific. Pan Am also asserts that the
MBTA’s obligation to implement the I-ETMS system exists independently from the 2014 PTC
Agreement. More specifically, Pan Am points to a 1976 Deed and a 2011 Trackage Rights
Agreement, which Pan Am explains in detail in its counterclaims. See Counterclaims at 23-38.
On November 21, 2016, over Pan Am’s objections, the MBTA expanded commuter rail
service on the Wachusett extension to include twenty-six daily round trip passenger trains. The
MBTA continues to refuse to install a dual PTC system on the shared tracks at issue, but
allegedly retains benefits of providing commuter rail service on the Wachusett extension.
The MBTA asserts that it is not bound by the 2014 PTC Agreement because its Board is
entitled, as a matter of law, to disavow the 2014 PTC Agreement. After the MBTA filed this
action for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking a declaration that the contracts do not bind the
MBTA to install dual systems, Pan Am filed eleven counterclaims against the MBTA. Pan Am
asserts contract claims arguing that the MBTA is bound by the 1976 Deed, the 2011 Trackage
Rights Agreement, and the 2014 PTC Agreement to perform. As an alternative, if the
agreements are unenforceable, Pan Am asserts that the MBTA is liable to perform pursuant to its
counterclaims alleging misrepresentation (Count VIII), promissory/equitable estoppel (Count
IX), and violation of G.L. c. 93A, § 11 (Count X). Those counterclaims are the subject of the
MBTA’s motion.
To survive a motion to dismiss, the counterclaimant’s “[f]actual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . [based] on the assumption that all
the allegations in the . . . [counterclaims] are true (even if doubtful in fact) . . . .” Iannacchino v.
Ford Motor Co., 451 Mass. 623, 636 (2008), citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955,
1964-1965 (2007). In other words, “[w]hile a complaint [alleging counterclaims] attacked by a
. . . motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations . . . a plaintiff’s obligation to
provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions
. . . .” Iannacchino, 451 Mass. at 636, quoting Bell Atl. Corp., 127 S. Ct. at 1966. Dismissal
under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) is proper where a reading of the counterclaims establishes
beyond doubt that the facts alleged do not support a cause of action which the law recognizes,
such that the counterclaims are legally insufficient. See Nguyen v. William Joiner Center for the
Study of War and Social Consequences, 450 Mass. 291, 295 (2007).
Estoppel (Count IX)
In Count IX, Pan Am claims that it reasonably relied, to its detriment, on the MBTA’s
repeated representations and promises that it would pay for and install a dual PTC system. The
MBTA, however, argues that the estoppel claim must be dismissed because estoppel cannot
apply to a claim against the government. As a governmental body, the MBTA asserts that its
agents, even its General Manager and General Counsel, cannot bind the MBTA, absent Board
approval. Pan Am argues that the MBTA is mischaracterizing its estoppel counterclaim and
explains that the counterclaim “is premised on its detrimental and good faith reliance on
MBTA’s representations that MBTA would implement I-ETMS on the jointly used tracks when
Pan Am agreed to the Wachusett Infrastructure Agreement, when it agreed not to insist upon
MBTA’s completion of a capacity study, and when it agreed to permit MBTA to commence
commuter rail service on the Wachusett Extension without having conducted a capacity study.”
Defendants’ Opposition at 10.
“Circumstances that may give rise to an estoppel are (1) a representation intended to
induce reliance on the part of a person to whom the representation is made; (2) an act or omission
by that person in reasonable reliance on the representation; and (3) detriment as a consequence of
the act or omission.” Bongaards v. Millen, 440 Mass. 10, 15 (2003). All three elements of
estoppel must be present, and the party asserting estoppel has a heavy burden to prove all three
elements. Sullivan v. Chief Justice for Admin. & Mgt. of the Trial Court, 448 Mass. 15, 28
(2006). “[T]he reliance of the party seeking the benefit of estoppel must have been reasonable.”
Turnpike Motors, Inc. v. Newbury Group, Inc., 413 Mass. 119, 125 (1992). “But the doctrine of
estoppel is not applied except when to refuse it would be inequitable.” Cleaveland v. Malden
Sav. Bank, 291 Mass. 295, 297 (1935), quoting Boston & Albany R.R. v. Reardon, 226 Mass.
286, 291 (1917) (“In order to work an estoppel it must appear that one has been induced by the
conduct of another to do something different from what otherwise would have been done and
which has resulted to his harm and that the other knew or had reasonable cause to know that such
consequence might follow”).
Massachusetts courts, however, “have been ‘reluctant to apply principles of estoppel to
public entities where to do so would negate requirements of law intended to protect the public
interest.’” Sullivan v. Chief Justice for Admin. & Mgt. of the Trial Court, 448 Mass. at 30,
quoting Phipps Prods. Corp. v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth., 387 Mass. 687, 693 (1982).
“[T]he rule against applying estoppel to the sovereign continues almost intact where a
government official acts, or makes representations, contrary to a statute or regulation designed to
. . . ensure some . . . legislative purpose.” McAndrew v. School Comm. of Cambridge, 20 Mass.
App. Ct. 356, 361 (1985). The public’s interest in seeing that a governmental agency of the
Commonwealth adheres to legislative policies “overrides any equitable considerations.” Phipps
Prods. Corp. v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth., 387 Mass. at 693. “A common thread
underlying . . . [the] reluctance . . . [of courts] to apply principles of estoppel to public entities
has been the idea that deference to legislative policy should trump individual acts or statements
of a government official that may be contrary to such policy. Otherwise, protections afforded the
public interest are thwarted.” Sullivan v. Chief Justice for Admin. & Mgt. of the Trial Court, 448
Mass. at 30-31.
In Massachusetts, public officials cannot make binding contracts without express
authority. Dagastino v. Commissioner of Correction, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 456, 458 (2001).
Authority to bind their governmental employer exists only to the extent conferred by the
controlling statute. Id. Entities that deal with a government agency, such as Pan Am, must
therefore “take notice of limitations upon that agency’s contracting power and cannot recover
upon a contract which oversteps those limitations.” Id. Under G.L. c. 161A, §§ 3(f) & 3(k), the
Legislature gave the MBTA’s Board, and not its managers, the authority to enter into contracts
and to provide for the construction and modification of mass transportation resources. The
counterclaim does not allege that the MBTA’s Board approved the 2014 PTC Agreement.
Pan Am’s claim of equitable estoppel fails on the element requiring reasonable reliance.
As a matter of law, Pan Am could not have reasonably relied on representations by the MBTA’s
employees as to their authority to enter into a contract binding the MBTA. Harrington v. Fall
River Hous. Authy., 27 Mass. App. Ct. 301, 309 (1989) (holding that “as matter of law” reliance
on representations of government employees is unreasonable). The Appeals Court in Harrington
quoted the following passage from the U.S. Supreme Court in Heckler v. Community Health
Servs., Inc., 467 U.S. 51, 63-64 (1984): “[T]hose who deal with the Government are expected to
know the law and may not rely on the conduct of government agents contrary to law . . . .”
Harrington v. Fall River Hous. Authy., 27 Mass. App. Ct. at 309. “In Massachusetts, also, one
relies at his peril on representations by a government official concerning legal requirements.” Id.
Consequently, Pan Am cannot rely on the doctrine of estoppel to force the MBTA to comply with
the PTC commitments or to recover damages from the MBTA. See Phipps Prods. Corp. v.
Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth., 387 Mass. at 693-694 (refusing to apply estoppel to MBTA in
connection with the sale of a building). See also United States Leasing Corp. v. Chicopee, 402
Mass. 228, 229-232 & n.4 (1988) (refusing to apply estoppel, concluding that under city charter,
contract required mayoral approval; thus, contract executed and approved by school
superintendent and city solicitor could be disavowed). Accordingly, Pan Am’s estoppel
counterclaim in Count IX must be dismissed.
Misrepresentation (Count VIII)
The MBTA also moves to dismiss Pan Am’s misrepresentation counterclaim in Count
VIII.2 Pan Am asserts that the MBTA, through its General Manager and General Counsel,
negligently misrepresented their authority to bind the MBTA to an agreement to install a dualtype
PTC on jointly used track. Pan Am contends that the MBTA knew that Pan Am would rely
on the representations of the General Manager and General Counsel. Therefore, Pan Am
contends that it justifiably relied to its detriment on the MBTA’s negligent misrepresentations.3
“In order to recover for negligent misrepresentation a plaintiff must prove that the
defendant (1) in the course of his business, (2) supplied false information for the guidance of
others (3) in their business transactions, (4) causing and resulting in pecuniary loss to those
others (5) by their justifiable reliance on the information, and that he (6) failed to exercise
reasonable care or competence in obtaining or communicating the information.” Gossels v. Fleet
Nat’l Bank, 453 Mass. 366, 371-372 (2009).
As can be seen, Pan Am faces, again, the question of whether, as a matter of law, it could
justifiably and reasonably rely on representations of employees of a governmental body as to
their authority to enter into a contract binding the MBTA. As described previously,
Massachusetts law holds that such reasonable or justifiable reliance cannot be established, as a
matter of law, when a party is contracting with a governmental body.
The MBTA also argues that Pan Am cannot repackage its contract claim as a tort claim
2 Pan Am is not proceeding on a claim for intentional misrepresentation in Count VIII.
Instead, it seeks to assert a claim for negligent misrepresentation.
3 The MBTA also argues that Pan Am’s negligent misrepresentation claim should be
dismissed for lack of presentment under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G.L. c. 258. Under
G.L. c. 258, § 4, however, the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act’s presentment requirements do not
apply to counterclaims. See G.L. c. 258, § 4 (“The provisions of this section shall not apply to
such claims as may be asserted by third-party complaint, cross claim, or counter-claim . . . ”).
based on negligent misrepresentation. “[F]ailure to perform a contractual duty does not give rise
to a tort claim for negligent misrepresentation . . . Plaintiffs who are unable to prevail on their
contract claims may not repackage the same claims under tort law.” Cumis Ins. Soc’y, Inc. v.
BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc., 455 Mass. 458, 474 (2009). “[F]ailure to perform a contractual
obligation is not a tort in the absence of a duty to act apart from the promise made.” Anderson v.
Fox Hill Village Homeowners Corp., 424 Mass. 365, 368 (1997). Pan Am either has an
enforceable contract or it does not. If it does not, Pan Am cannot obtain enforcement of the
contract by asserting that the MBTA’s employees were negligent. Consequently, Pan Am’s
negligent misrepresentation counterclaim in Count VIII is dismissed.
Chapter 93A (Count X)
Finally, the MBTA moves to dismiss Pan Am’s Chapter 93A counterclaim in Count X.
In Count X, Pan Am claims that the MBTA violated G.L. c. 93A, § 11 because it was acting in
the course of trade or commerce when its employees misrepresented their authority with respect
to the implementation of PTC. Pan Am asserts that the MBTA’s conduct, as alleged in their
counterclaims, was unfair and deceptive. The MBTA argues that Count X should be dismissed
because: (1) the MBTA is not a suable “person” under Chapter 93A and (2) the conduct at issue
did not involve the MBTA engaging in trade or commerce. Pan Am argues, among other things,
that whether the MBTA was engaged in trade or commerce under Chapter 93A is a factual
inquiry that should not be decided on a motion to dismiss. Because it is clear, as a matter of law,
that the MBTA’s conduct was not in the context of trade or commerce, the motion to dismiss
must be granted.
Under Chapter 93A, “[u]nfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or
practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.” G.L. c. 93A, §
2(a). See G.L. c. 93A, § 1(b) (defining “trade” and “commerce” as, “the advertising, the offering
for sale, . . . the sale, rent, lease or distribution of any services and any property, tangible or
intangible, real, personal or mixed . . . and any other article, commodity, or thing of value
wherever situate, and shall include any trade or commerce directly or indirectly affecting the
people of this commonwealth”). Under G.L. c. 93A, § 11, “[a]ny person who engages in the
conduct of any trade or commerce and who suffers any loss of money or property, real or
personal, as a result of the use or employment by another person who engages in any trade or
commerce of an unfair method of competition or an unfair or deceptive act or practice declared
unlawful by section two . . . may, as hereinafter provided, bring an action in the superior court
. . . .” A “person” under the statute, “shall include, where applicable, natural persons,
corporations, trusts, partnerships, incorporated or unincorporated associations, and any other
legal entity.” G.L. c. 93A, § 1(a).
“[T]he proscription in Section 2 of ‘unfair or deceptive acts or practices . . .’ must be read
to apply to those acts or practices which are perpetrated in a business context.” See Poznik v.
Massachusetts Med. Professional Ins. Ass’n, 417 Mass. 48, 50-53 (1994) (holding that
Massachusetts Medical Professional Insurance Association, a nonprofit joint underwriting
association established by Legislature, was not engaged in trade or commerce and was not
subject to suit under Chapter 93A),4 quoting Lantner v. Carson, 374 Mass. 606, 611 (1978).
4 After the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Poznik, the Legislature amended the
applicable statutes to include “any joint underwriting association established pursuant to law” as
a “person” under G.L. c. 176D, § 1. Wheatley v. Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund, 465
Mass. 297, 300 (2013). The court subsequently determined that joint underwriting associations
were subject to a consumer action under Chapter 93A. Id.
“The question whether a transaction occurs in a business context must be determined by the facts
of each case.” Poznik v. Massachusetts Med. Professional Ins. Ass’n, 417 Mass. at 52. Courts
consider “the nature of the transaction, the character of the parties and their activities, and
whether the transaction was motivated by business or personal reasons.” All Seasons Servs., Inc.
v. Commissioner of Health & Hosps. of Boston, 416 Mass. 269, 271 (1993).
In this case, the MBTA cannot be subject to a claim for violation of Chapter 93A because
it was not engaged in trade or commerce when it engaged with Pan Am concerning the 2008
federal mandate regarding PTC. All of the conduct alleged in Pan Am’s counterclaims involves
the parties’ efforts to comply with the 2008 federal mandate regarding PTC, including their
negotiations as to how they would achieve such compliance. The MBTA was acting at all times
in furtherance of its statutory mission to provide mass transportation services to the public. Its
compliance with the federal mandate was necessary to further this mission. See Bretton v. State
Lottery Comm’n, 41 Mass. App. Ct. 736, 738-739 (1996) (concluding that State Lottery
Commission was not a “person” engaged in “trade or commerce” for purposes of Chapter 93A).
See also Rodriguez v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth., 33 Mass. L. Rptr. 418, *14 (Mass.
Super. Ct. Mar. 31, 2016) (Kaplan, J.) (concluding that MBTA is not engaged in trade or
commerce when it performs its statutorily mandated task of providing mass transit services to
public). Because the MBTA’s activities were driven by legislative mandate, not by “business or
personal objectives,” Chapter 93A does not apply. Bretton v. State Lottery Comm’n, 41 Mass.
App. Ct. at 739. See Peabody N.E., Inc. v. Marshfield, 426 Mass. 436, 440 (1998) (“This court .
. . has repeatedly held that c. 93A does not apply to parties motivated by ‘legislative mandate, not
business or personal reasons’”)(citation omitted). For these reasons, Pan Am’s Chapter 93A
counterclaim against the MBTA must be dismissed.
Plaintiff Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Partial Motion to Dismiss
Defendants’ Counterclaims is ALLOWED. The Pan Am Defendants’ Counterclaims in Count
VIII (misrepresentation), Count IX (promissory/equitable estoppel), and Count X (violation of
G.L. c. 93A, § 11) are DISMISSED.
By the Court,
Edward P. Leibensperger
Justice of the Superior Court
Dated: August 18, 2017

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