Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Descendants of slaves imaged in daguerreotypes may sue Harvard for emotional distress, high court rules

Harvard Yard
(Daderot. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The Lanier family, whose enslaved ancestors were stripped and forcibly photographed in 1850, may allege reckless infliction of emotional distress against Harvard, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in June.

I wrote about this case and its heated oral argument in November, with links to sources elucidating the context. The court's decision to allow an emotional distress claim is momentous, even while the court dismissed claims in property law and tortious conversion.

Read more about the latest disposition at The Harvard Crimson and CBS News.

The case is Lanier v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. SJC-13138 (Mass. June 23, 2022). Justice Scott Kafker wrote the opinion of the court.

Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd wrote separately in concurrence "to emphasize that the alleged conduct of the defendants (collectively, Harvard) here clearly transgressed moral standards broadly adopted by archival institutions."

Justice Elspeth B. Cypher wrote an intriguing additional concurrence in which she proposed that the plaintiffs should be afforded a novel common law cause of action, besides infliction of emotional distress, upon the unprecedented facts of the instant case.

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