On my late 2011 17" MBP....No issues at all. If you do have plenty of HDD space left, then I would return it, could have a drive on the way out.
If he has a late 2011 MBP, it came pre-installed with Lion OSX. Or are you referring to apps he may have installed?Sounds like you did not leave enough Disk Space when installing.
I have a late 2011 MBP 13.3 and it is running like a champ. I did upgrade ram to 8GB and it helped tremendously. If you haven't done this yet, do it asap.