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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that an employee’s “abusive text messages” can be an element supporting a claim that a business engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 93A.  The learning for businesses? Courtesy counts (and that it can be unwise to have employees who are also family members of account holders involved in the administration of trust assets).

In the case, UBS Financial Services, Inc. v. Aliberti,, an IRA beneficiary, Aliberti, counterclaimed against the commercial custodian (UBS) of three IRAs for violating Chapter 93A by, in part, delaying distribution and engaging in abusive conduct in a “[q]uasi familial conflict” whereby the UBS employee who assisted the IRA account holder in establishing the account was also his one-time sister-in-law.  After the account holder’s death, the UBS employee sent Aliberti (with whom the holder was involved in a “long-term romantic but nonmarital relationship”) a series of text messages after Aliberti inquired about distribution of the IRA assets.  These messages included “attacks on Aliberti’s character, including references to her as ‘a whore’ and ‘the . . . worst piece of filth I have ever encountered,’” as well as an accusation that Aliberti had not noticed errors on the death certificate because she was “’too busy ransacking’ and ‘so eager to grab the money.’”

Although there were also other factors supporting a Chapter 93A claim, the SCJ noted that the “dispatch of abusive text messages” in response to a beneficiary’s “inquiry about distribution” was added to the “litany” of other factors supporting a Chapter 93A claim, including denying without good cause and for years Aliberti funds to which she was entitled and forcing Aliberti to take legal action and incur costs and fees.