Burns & Levinson won a precedential Suffolk Superior Court decision on behalf of client Caffé Nero, a London-based Italian-style coffeehouse, after its landlord, Urban Meritage, LLC, terminated its 15-year lease, evicted the company from its Newbury Street location, and sought to recover unpaid rent during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Caffé Nero was forced to close all locations in Massachusetts following then Governor Baker’s order to shut down restaurants, so the court ruled that the tenant did not breach its lease as argued by the landlord, as the obligation to pay rent was discharged under the doctrine of frustration of purpose. The doctrine states that a tenant is excused from performing its contractual obligations when an unanticipated and unrelated event destroys the purpose of that contract – which, as Burns argued, is exactly what happened when government restrictions prevented Caffé Nero from using the restaurant space.
This was the first decision of its kind since the pandemic began and will serve as a precedent for retailers impacted by COVID-19 and a potential prevention of similar lawsuits.
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