Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Considers Breach of Contract Award For Researcher

By Lauren Dwyer, Esq. and Elizabeth McEvoy, Esq.

Institutions and researchers alike will be watching the outcome of a case pending before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court addressing whether a longtime cancer researcher can recover the full cost of rebuilding and operating her research lab (estimated at over $10M) as damages for breach of contract and the closure of her lab (The case is SJC-12688). Massachusetts’ highest Court must decide whether the researcher can recover for the value of her research and how to value such research, described by the Court as her “life’s work.” The research lab was mainly funded by federal grants held by the institution and the researcher had no ownership interest in the funds or the lab itself. The nonprofit that operated the lab ultimately went bankrupt and, despite efforts to protect the lab’s assets, the equipment was lost and research samples were incinerated.

Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said the court has a number of cases and expects to hear many more in the coming months, in which a member of the research community has been discharged due to allegations of harassment or other reasons not at issue here, which could be impacted by the pending case. A jury initially awarded the researcher approximately $22 million, which the judge reduced to $10.2 million