SJC: JULIO ACEVEDO vs. MUSTERFIELD PLACE

Keywords:   Housing Authority. Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. Words, “Controlled affiliate,” “Public employer

On direct appellate review, the SJC concluded that neither a “controlled affiliate” nor the “manager” of a controlled affiliate is a “public employer” as defined in the act.  Justice Gants wrote: “On February 22, 2013, the plaintiff, Julio Acevedo, allegedly slipped and fell while descending stairs at his apartment in a public housing development in Framingham known as Musterfield at Concord Place (property), and suffered serious injuries.  He filed a complaint in the Superior Court alleging various claims for damages against three defendants:  the Framingham Housing Authority (authority); Musterfield Place, LLC, a “controlled affiliate” of the authority, which owns the property (owner); and FHA Musterfield Manager, LLC, the managing agent for the owner (manager).  The owner and manager moved for partial summary judgment, seeking a ruling that they should be deemed public employers under the Tort Claims Act (act), G. L. c. 258, § 2, and therefore may not be liable for damages in excess of $100,000.  The judge denied the motion, concluding that the act “clearly defines the scope of a public employer,” and did not include controlled affiliates within that definition.  Recognizing that the issue whether controlled affiliates are deemed public employers under the act is a matter with “potentially broad impact throughout the Commonwealth” and that it has not been addressed by any other Massachusetts court, the judge reported his decision to the Appeals Court pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 64 (a), as amended, 423 Mass. 1410 (1996), and stayed the action until the appeal is decided.  We conclude that neither a controlled affiliate nor the manager of a controlled affiliate is a “public employer” as defined in the act, and therefore, we affirm the denial of the defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment.”

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