Showing posts with label battery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label battery. Show all posts

Monday, September 21, 2020

Man may sue police in tort, civil rights for violent beating, despite his conviction for resisting arrest

"Defund the police" has been a rallying cry in recent protests. (Photo at BLM
encampment, New York City, June 26, 2020, by Felton Davis CC BY 2.0.)
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court last week vacated and remanded the trial court's judgment for police in a civil suit with racial overtones.

Authoring the unanimous opinion, Justice David A. Lowy characterized the case as "disturbing."  The court recited the facts as most favorable to the plaintiff, Mark S. Tinsley, the non-moving party.  According to that recitation, Tinsley, who is African American, was stopped by Framingham, Massachusetts, police for speeding in 2012.  Suspecting Tinsley of hiding something, police ordered Tinsley from the car, and he refused.  The traffic stop by two police officers became a physical struggle with five to pull Tinsley from the car.  Once he was out of the car, on the ground,

several police officers began beating him.  Tinsley did not resist. He tried to put his hands behind his back so that the police officers would handcuff him and thus, he thought, stop hitting him. The police officers did not stop. [One officer] struck Tinsley's collarbone and upper shoulder, and stomped on Tinsley's left hand. [A second officer] sprayed Tinsley with pepper spray. [A third officer] called Tinsley a "fucking n[word]" [footnote: "At trial, [the third officer] denied that he or any other police officer swore at Tinsley or called him 'any names.'"] and kicked Tinsley in the head. While Tinsley was on the ground, an officer handcuffed him [footnote omitted quoting Tinsley's trial testimony]. Tinsley suffered a broken nose, a broken finger, and a wound on the side of his head that required stitches.

Tinsley was convicted on counts including assault and battery (criminal), carrying a dangerous weapon ("a spring assisted knife"), and resisting arrest.  While criminal charges were pending, Tinsley sued for civil rights violation and tort claims including assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false arrest.  Upon two motions, the latter decided after the conclusion of the criminal proceeding, the trial court entered judgment for defendants police and town on all counts.

The question on appeal was whether the trial court properly recognized in the civil proceeding the collateral estoppel effect of Tinsley's criminal conviction.  The doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes a later civil court from re-trying facts and conclusions of law that were determined by jury and court in an earlier criminal proceeding.  Thus, after conviction, a defendant may not argue his innocence in a later case.

However, the facts deemed determined in the earlier criminal proceeding are limited to the facts that supported conviction.  Tinsley argued, and the Court agreed, that the jury's conviction was not inconsistent with Tinsley's claim of excessive force for the beating he endured on the ground, outside the car, after his arrest.  The Court reasoned that Tinsley was placed under arrest when he was seized inside the car.  Insofar as Tinsley was resisting arrest inside the car, then, collateral estoppel pertains, precluding suit on the tort of false arrest.  But the jury may have based its conviction on a fact pattern that ended before Tinsley was on the ground. So the facts of the beating, occurring after arrest, remain arguable in the civil case.

The Court explained,

Even where the use of force to effect an arrest is reasonable in response to an individual's resistance, the continued use of force may well be unreasonable, as an individual's conduct prior to arrest or during an arrest does not authorize a violation of his or her constitutional rights....  To hold differently would implicitly permit police officers, in response to a resisting individual, to exert as much force as they so choose "and be shielded from accountability under civil law," so long as the prosecutor could successfully convict the individual of resisting arrest.

Accordingly, the Court vacated judgment for defendants on the civil rights claim and the assault, battery, and IIED counts, and remanded the civil case to proceed.  The false arrest claim was properly barred.

The case is Tinsley v. Town of Framingham, No. SJC-12826 (Mass. Sept. 17, 2020).  Chief Justice Gants participated in deliberations before his death.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Defamation case against Trump fits woeful pattern, while DOJ defense is defensible, if disconcerting

Notice of Removal in Carroll v. Trump
The recent news (e.g., N.Y. Times) that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will defend the President in the defamation suit arising from sexual-assault allegations by E. Jean Carroll has caught the interest of both my Torts I class and my Trump Litigation Seminar (TLS).  The DOJ's announcement manifests on the docket in removal of the case from the New York Supreme Court to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Links and key court documents are now posted atop The Savory Tort's TLS blogsite.

The strategy of using a sexual-assault denial and accompanying charge that the accuser is a "liar" as the basis for a defamation suit against the alleged perpetrator, i.e., Carroll v. Trump, is now, unfortunately, a familiar feature of our high-profile tort-litigation landscape.  It might have been Bill Cosby who committed the pattern to popular culture's long-term memory.  The Cosby case came complete with counterclaims, making the defamation dispute the dueling ground for truth and falsity.

It's unfortunate, because the tort of defamation was not designed to be a truth-finding mechanism.  Historically, truth wasn't even a defense; that's a modern artifact inferred by the freedom of speech.  The flaws in our defamation law are legion and one of my favorite subjects; one that matters here is that defamation is rarely capable of delivering exoneration, much less satisfying any of a plaintiff's legitimate aims.

Among reforms of defamation that have been proposed over the years are mechanisms to ferret out and publicize truth, rather than focusing on the plaintiff's alleged injury or the defendant's asserted rights.  Though not always well crafted, laws that incentivize correction or settlement over protracted litigation at least aim in the right direction.  Regrettably, reform of defamation has been hamstrung for decades by the Supreme Court's well intentioned but ultimately improvident constitutionalization of defamation in the 1960s and 1970s.  I hope one day, we'll wade our way out of that morass.

Anyway, on the question of the DOJ's intervention, there's a curious conundrum about Carroll v. Trump.  The DOJ position is that Trump was acting in the scope of the office of the President when he denied Carroll's sexual-assault allegations.  We would, after all, hope that any President would deny such allegations, and we would have to admit that the truth of the allegations bears on his fitness for office.  Thus, the DOJ reasons, it must represent the position of the President.  The bitter pill for Trump opponents to swallow is that that's probably right.

The kicker comes in that Trump's denial is only presidential if he's telling the truth.  If he did what Carroll alleged, then the operative facts of the case occurred before Trump was elected.  His later denial then feels more like the mere pleading of a private defendant in an ordinary civil suit.  You know, one in which we might debate what the meaning of is is.  So the rationale for defense by DOJ is predicated on the very question at issue in the litigation.  For DOJ to take the President's denial as true, for now, is a fair, if uncomfortable, choice.  If one day the court rules in Carroll's favor, though, maybe we can send the legal bill to the former President.

Thanks to TLS student Ricardo Serrano and Torts student Paul McAlarney for helping me think about this one.

[UPDATE Oct. 27, 2020.]  The court denied the government's motion to substitute party on Oct. 27, 2020.  See Special Coverage at the Trump Litigation Seminar.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Horrors at Oak Ridge Psychiatric amounted to assault, battery, but lacked intent for IIED, Ontario court rules

From 1963 to 1988, patients involuntarily committed to the maximum-security Oak Ridge Mental Health Centre at Penetanguishene, Ontario, were subject to barbaric experimentation.  (From CBC (2016), above.) Treatments included LSD, other mind-altering drugs, and corporeal maltreatment, such as "the Capsule":

a soundproof, windowless, and constantly lit 8’ x 10’ room, with no furniture and an exposed toilet, where groups of patients, had their interactions monitored through closed-circuit television and a one-way mirror by patient observers outside....

Patients ... were frequently restrained or strapped to each other, and were most often injected with DDT drugs to lower their inhibitions. They were often paired so that patients diagnosed with schizophrenia experiencing a chaotic range of emotions where placed together with patients with antisocial personality disorders....

So egregious were the methods employed at Oak Ridge that 28 former patients now suing the Crown could have made out a fair case for medical negligence.  But the Ontario court was willing to find intentional torts, assault and battery, instead.  Notwithstanding lawful involuntary commitment and seeming express consent to treatment procured from patients, the extreme nature of the medical experimentation rendered the patients' informed consent impossible, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in June.

At the same time, the patients could not prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, for want of "double-duty intent" (my words); that is, although medical staff inflicted emotional distress intentionally in the short term, and notwithstanding the lasting psychological trauma that resulted, the defendants, however misguided, acted with the greater goal, or intent, of making the patients well.

Hat tip to Private Law Theory, which reported an examination of the case against an historical analysis of battery in Canadian common law by Omar Ha-Redeye, executive director of the Durham Community Legal Clinic in Oshawa, Ontario.

The case is Barker v. Barker, 2020 ONSC 3746 (CanLII) (Ont. Super. Ct. June 25, 2020) (Canada).

Watch and read more about Oak Ridge with Canadian Broadcasting (2016) (above) and in other sources.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Conditions of criminal pretrial release shouldn't abate civil abuse prevention order, Mass. court rules

In a decision today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed and remanded a trial judge's refusal to extend an abuse prevention order.

The order meant to protect a woman who had testified to physical abuse by her husband, who blamed her for the premature birth of their daughter.  According to testimony, "[a]s she tried to nurse the baby, the defendant painfully grabbed at her breast"; he shoved the woman; he threatened her and the baby; and he called the woman "'a horrible mother because [she] wasn't fat enough and wasn't eating enough.'"  The man was charged with (criminal) assault and battery.

The trial judge refused to extend the abuse prevention order because he improperly considered conditions of pretrial release and involvement of the Department of Children and Families as duplicative of the order.  The court explained:

Conditions of pretrial release are within a judge's broad discretion, and the civilian victim has no right to be heard on the matter. Furthermore, conditions of pretrial release are terminated automatically when the criminal case is disposed.

For these reasons, conditions of pretrial release, even if they encompass the same conditions as an abuse prevention order, are no substitute for an abuse prevention order. The same reasoning applies to DCF involvement. DCF has no power to incarcerate a person for engaging in abuse of a household or family member. At most, DCF can take custody of a child and refer the matter to law enforcement....

Rather than rely on these factors, a judge should simply determine whether the plaintiff has shown "a reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm[,]" ... or whether the plaintiff has "suffered physical abuse" or "past sexual abuse" and "an order [i]s necessary to protect her from the impact of that abuse." [Citations omitted.]

The ruling thus marks the significant differences among civil, criminal, and administrative processes, each with its separate aims, even when all three are implicated in a case of domestic violence.

The case is Vera V. v. Seymour S., No. 19-P-1674 (Mass. App. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).  Justice Joseph M. Ditkoff wrote the opinion for himself, Justice Gregory I. Massing, and Justice Sookyoung Shin.

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Michael Means.)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Battery, IIED in play if medical staff ignore patient's 'stop,' court rules

Medical professionals may be liable for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress for failing to heed a patient's withdrawal of consent, a Massachusetts Appeals Court reversal warned in February.

Brigham and Women's Hospital is a teaching hospital
of Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Photo by trepulu CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (2010).
According to the appellate court opinion, evidence in the case supported the plaintiffs' disputed claim that terminally ill cancer patient Donna Zaleskas begged staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital to stop X-rays of her leg because of her physical discomfort, but that X-ray technicians proceeded anyway.  On behalf of Zaleskas, who succumbed to cancer, survivors are suing the hospital for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, upon the theory that Zaleskas withdrew consent.  The Superior Court awarded summary judgment to the defense, and the Appeals Court reversed and remanded.

Thirty-seven-year-old decedent Zaleskas was a personal injury and product liability attorney in New York and alumna of Boston College Law School.

A finer line than one might expect separates theories of negligence and battery in many medical malpractice cases.  When a medical professional touches or otherwise physically treats a patient without, or beyond the scope of, the patient's consent, the action can simultaneously satisfy the test for intentional battery—defendant intentionally effecting physical contact that is unwanted by the complainant—and negligence—defendant's failure to comport with the standard of care of a reasonable professional under the circumstances.  Consent is an affirmative defense to intentional torts, like assumption of risk is a defense to negligence, but scope of consent often presents a thorny question of controverted fact.  Of course, patients with the benefit of hindsight are ill inclined to suppose that they consented to physical contact that caused harm, so intentional tort claims are often rationally articulable alongside accident claims in medmal lawsuits.

In the interest of doctrinal clarity, courts often, and in some jurisdictions, upon some facts, must, channel cases into a distinct rubric for "medical malpractice" that sits under or alongside the negligence umbrella, regardless of whether the case might be characterized as intent or accident.  That's a modern trend.  Massachusetts is more permissive in preserving conventional claims in intentional torts in medmal when the facts fit the bill.  The difference can be important in different dimensions.  A defendant's insurer might deny coverage, under policy terms, for intentional torts.  At the same time, intentional torts may give a plaintiff access to greater, even punitive, damage awards.

The Appeals Court ruled Zaleskas's claim fit for hearing in the intentional tort framework.  The court wrote plainly, "We now hold that if a patient unambiguously withdraws consent after medical treatment has begun, and if it is medically feasible to discontinue treatment, continued treatment following such a withdrawal may give rise to a medical battery claim."  In the instant case, "a reasonable jury could find that saying stop or words to that effect, in the particular factual context at issue, was sufficient to withdraw consent."

The court ruled furthermore, to the plaintiffs' advantage, "that consent to have one's body touched or positioned for an X-ray is not a matter beyond the common knowledge or experience of a layperson and does not require expert medical testimony."

The case is Zaleskas v. Brigham & Women's Hosp., No. 18-P-1076 (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 11, 2020) (Justia). Justice Henry wrote for a unanimous panel with Rubin and Wendlandt, JJ.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Teachable torts, Rugby World Cup edition: When battery exceeds consent in sport

More than once over the years, I've received student-evaluation feedback complaining that my use of sport cases and hypotheticals in 1L Torts is detrimental to students not interested in sport.  Now I explain to the class in advance why we do it.

Torts is about deriving the rule of law from what the enlightenment philosophers termed our "social contract."  The sport field is a brilliant place to test out tort law, because it's a place where the social contract is most unusually suspended.  If your office workmate punches you in front of the copier, you'll consider suing her for battery.  Meanwhile, you'll most likely swallow your wounded pride when she takes you down on the soccer pitch.  Understanding the difference between the two cases is what tort law is all about.

In that vein—and in honor of the Rugby World Cup, with England v. Tonga getting under way as this post goes live—I present for your consideration St. Helens vs. Wigan in the 2014 Super League Grand Final of rugby: also remembered as Lance Hohaia v. Ben Flower.


There is, moreover, fascinating follow-up to this encounter to be found in Guardian coverage in 2015 and in BBC coverage in 2016.  The incident was recently recalled by TV NZ 1's Luke Appleby, who suggested that tort liability might be just the thing to bring rugby sluggers to heel.

HT@ barrister David Casserly, who first brought this dust-up to my attention.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Teachable torts, Patriots edition: Civil complaint against Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown in 2014 (by Brook Ward CC BY-NC 2.0)
New England news is afire today over the civil lawsuit filed against NFL Patriots football acquisition Antonio Brown.  It happens that many 1L law students are presently immersed in their first exposures to intentional torts and federal jurisdiction.  So here from Mnwilla at Scribd is the complaint and some comments for thought.




Notes and Questions

1. The case is filed in federal court in Florida, but the claims are all in state tort law. What is the basis for federal jurisdiction?  Why do you think the complaint was filed on Brown's first scheduled day of practice with the Patriots?

2. The fact statement is lengthy, paragraphs 14 to 74. But federal practice requires only "notice pleading."  Plaintiff's counsel gives up a lot of information about the plaintiff's theory of the case by putting more content than necessary into pleadings.  So why so much ink on factual allegations?

3. There are five straightforward counts, or causes: two in battery, one in false imprisonment, one in IIED, and one in invasion of privacy.
  • Notice how false imprisonment appears incidentally to other claims.  Unlike MBE hypotheticals, few cases in real life support false imprisonment by itself. 
  • One of the battery counts is called "sexual battery (rape)."  That's not really a distinct kind of battery in multistate common law, and it doesn't here appear to be covered by any specific statute, apart from common law.  Nevertheless, a plaintiff may claim separate counts of tort upon discrete factual bases.  What are the advantages of doing so?
  • What challenges does the plaintiff face in proving IIED?  Do the factual allegations get her there?  Is there vulnerability on this count or any other to a 12(b)(6) motion?

4. The plaintiff seeks punitive damages, and the bases for that claim are stated within the counts. Some jurisdictions require that sufficient allegations to support a claim for punitive damages be stated in a separate count, even though "punitive damages" is a damages claim, not a tort.  Can you discern the rule for punitive damages in the state jurisdiction, based on the allegations?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Minhaj: With tort impunity, cruise lines externalize risk, costs to workers, passengers, environment

One of my favorite comedians—saw him perform Homecoming King at intimate Cherry Lane in NYC in 2016—Hasan Minhaj (self-described "second brown John Oliver") has taken on the wide range of problems associated with cruise lines' foreign flagging and legal impunity at sea, threatening the safety and well-being of passengers with legal impacts including virtual immunity from tort liability.  (Patriot Act s4e04.)


Instrumental in this deplorable state of affairs for our part, in U.S. law, is the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. §§ 30301–30308.  On its face the act simply invites maritime wrongful death actions into U.S. courts.  However, the act's "shortcomings" have been documented in legal scholarship for a long time; the devil is in the details, specifically, damages, which are limited by § 30303 to "fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained."  Note, "pecuniary," not the familial wrongful death intangibles recoverable in domestic tort law, and maybe zero for, say, an elderly retired person.  Minhaj reports that attempts to amend the law have been torpedoed in Congress.

But DOHSA is just one piece of the big, messy picture of maritime liability, or non-liability, for cruise lines.  Most civil wrongs involving passengers are sexual assaults, which can come under the lax, overwhelmed, or de facto non-existent jurisdiction of the vessel's flag home.  Same for the abusive conditions to which cruise ship workers are subject, from working hours that would never be tolerated on land, on through to the minuscule compensations available for debilitating injury, such as loss of limb.  And all that's to say nothing of the devastating environmental impact of cruise ship polluting and dumping that occurs beyond the reach of regulators.

Minhaj aptly paints the ugly picture of what happens when an industry escapes the norm-setting and deterrence mechanisms of domestic tort law.  As he suggests, the relatively affordable cost of a cruise as a vacation optionand I confess, I've gone, I've loved it, and I'd like to go againis born disproportionately by an oppressed workforce, injured passengers, and the voiceless marine environment.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Student prevails in part in UMass Amherst due process disciplinary case in First Circuit

Last week the First Circuit held in favor of a student accused of a violent assault; however, the court largely upheld as constitutional the due process provided to the student in campus adjudication.

The case adds to federal appellate precedent on the requirements of procedural due process on campus.  The First Circuit's conclusions on these facts are not new water marks.  At the same time, observers predict that the multitude of circuit disagreements in this area will lead inevitably to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In the instant case, a male student was accused of a violent assault on a female student, his romantic partner, while studying abroad in Spain under the purview of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  The First Circuit ruled that the university failed to provide adequate notice and hearing prior to imposing a five-month suspension on the student, after the allegations but well before the adjudication.  Authored by Rhode-Island-born U.S. Circuit Judge William J. Kayatta Jr., the court's holding came from a unanimous three-judge panel that included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

The court affirmed judgment for the university as to the adequacy of the campus adjudication and consequent expulsion of the accused.  The student had challenged the adjudication for the exclusion of some evidence and the lack of opportunity to confront his accuser.  Constitutional rights in the context of the campus administrative process were not offended by those omissions, the court held, applying the flexible procedural due process test of Mathews v. Eldridge (U.S. 1976). It's the latter point, confrontation, that especially vexes critics and marks arguable disagreement with other circuit courts. 

The case arises against the backdrop of a heated national debate over higher education reform.  To my consternation, Title IX has become an area in which serious cases of sexual harassment and physical assault are lumped together on the nations' campuses with gross abuses of the rights of students and faculty.  Legitimate disciplinary processes have been perverted, and therefore caused to undermine civil rights law, by overzealous bureaucrats seeking to enforce politically correct group-think on students and to undermine academic freedom and faculty governance.  Purely in my personal capacity, I filed my own observations with the Department of Education in March.

The instant case is Haidak v. University of Massachusetts-Amherst, No. 18-1248 (1st Cir. Aug. 6, 2019).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

City not liable for bullying that resulted in child's quadriplegia, Mass. supreme court holds (and note on infantilization of faculty in higher ed)


The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) affirmed application of the Massachusetts Torts Claims Act (MTCA) to protect the City of Lynn, north of Boston, from liability in a tragic bullying incident that resulted in the permanent paralysis of the victim, a fourth grader.  The case is Corimer v. Lynn, No. SJC-12323 (Feb. 27, 2018).

The boy's mother had reported bullying and harassment of her son on "multiple occasions" in the 2007-08 school year.  Ultimately bullies pushed the boy down stairs, resulting in damage to his spinal cord and in quadriplegia.

The 1978 MTCA waives sovereign immunity, but a public actor may be held liable for the tort or violence of a third party only if the public actor "originally caused" the "harmful consequences."  Mass. G. L. c. 258, § 10 (j).  The courts have struggled to interpret that language, but have, as the SJC restated the rule, looked for "an affirmative act that materially contributed to creating a condition or situation that resulted in [plaintiff's] injuries."  A failure to act is distinguished.

The school left the bullies in class in proximity to the plaintiff, and we may assume arguendo that the school was negligent in failing to protect the plaintiff.  Even so, those failures were "'too remote as a matter of law'" to represent material contribution to the plaintiff's injuries.  In essence, then the "originally caused" standard seems to effect a causation-at-law analysis heightened above even the stringent inquiry invoked upon an intervening criminal actor.  On the same basis, the court rejected ancillary plaintiff theories predicated on negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of school staff.

The SJC acknowledged "that bullying is a serious issue" comprising "the emotional pain of day-to-day harassment" and sometimes, as here, "horrific physical consequences."  "[T]he elementary school could have and should have done more to protect [the plaintiff]."  Nevertheless, the operation of the MTCA is textbook, furthering the "public policy [of] some reasonable limits to governmental liability in order for taxpayers to avoid a potentially catastrophic financial burden."

Allow me a tangential observation about bullying policy:  

Many workplace entities, private and public, and including my own, are busily about the business of formulating "anti-bullying" policies.  At least in the academic context, I find these efforts nothing less than an end-run of contract, tenure, and academic freedom, calculated to suppress dissent and vigorous debate.  This SJC case indirectly illustrates the problem.  

Bullying is a concept derived from the K12 environment.  In the adult workplaceespecially in the academic workplace, where the very job is the exercise of free expression—bullying is co-extensive with harassment, discrimination, tort, and crime.  All of those were present in Corimer, harassment even before the child was physically injured.  There is no need for a separate policy purportedly to enforce civility (as if such a thing even were possible) among adults.  Any effort to create such a policy is nothing more than an authoritarian perversion of modish terminology—on campus, the infantilization of the faculty—and a disservice to children who truly are bullied in school.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

'False claims of love': Mass. App. speaks from the heart for Valentine's Day

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals rejected a divorcee's lawsuit for "false claims of love."

The plaintiff's eight claims were aptly characterized by the court as sounding in fraud, battery (i.e., contact upon improperly procured consent), infliction of emotional distress, and unjust enrichment.  All of these claims turned on misleading inducement to marry as a common, operative allegation.

Massachusetts by statute "abolished the common law actions for alienation of affection," "reflect[ing] the Legislature's public policy decision to no longer consider judicial remedy appropriate for what is only 'an ordinary broken heart.'"  Christopher Robinette wrote succinctly about the "heart balm torts"—alienation of affections, criminal conversation, seduction, and breach of promise to marry—in November at Tortsprof Blog.  Reading between the lines of the law, the court explained that legislators meant to preclude any cause of action that would require "'explor[ing] the minds of' consenting partners" (quoting precedent).

This case was not about failure to marry, but about marriage under allegedly false pretenses.  Same difference, the court held, with respect to claims of fraud or misrepresentation: plaintiff's "artful pleadings fail to hide the fact that these claims, based on events that occurred prior to the marriage, are precluded ...."  The same result controlled battery, as the consent analysis plainly would defy the inferred legislative intent.

As to IIED, the plaintiff could not meet the threshold of "extreme and outrageous," neither through allegation of an adulterous affair, even if calculated to inflict emotional injury, nor through failure to disclose "concealment of past sexual or romantic history."  Massachusetts courts at least in theory recognize a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED)--the truly pure case of it is far rarer than recitation of the theory--but found the record "bereft of physical harm manifested by objective symptomatology."  On both points, one must recall Jones v. Clinton, 990 F. Supp. 657 (E.D. Ark. 1998), per the Hon. Susan Weber Wright.  This case also well exemplifies why NIED is not sound doctrine, a point the Supreme Judicial Court might ought revisit one day.

On unjust enrichment and related theories, the court concluded that any unjustness was predicated on the earlier rejected fraud, and otherwise, the plaintiff was in no way of feeble mind.

The court summed up: "[N]ot all human actions in the context of the dissolution of a marriage have an avenue for legal recourse, no matter how much anger, sorrow, or anxiety they cause." Broadened to all affairs of the heart, the conclusion well restates essential tort policy, lest we become the caricature of the litigious society.

The case is Shea v. Cameron, No. 16-P-1479 (Mass. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2018), per Agnes, Sacks, and Lemire, JJ.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The NFL and the Dramatic Arts


Last week, in The Death of Civil Justice, I mentioned Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc., 435 F. Supp. 352 (D. Colo. 1977), rev’d & remanded, 601 F.2d 516 (10th Cir. 1979), in which U.S. District Judge Matsch wrestled with the Tenth Circuit over the role of the courts in oversight of on-field sport misconduct (think cousin problem, Deflate-gate).  Hackbart involved a strike on the body of Dale Hackbart (later an advocate for male breast cancer awareness) by opponent Charles "Boobie" Clark (since deceased) in a Bengals-Broncos clash in the early 1970s.  Judge Matsch would have left the matter within regulation by the sport, but the Tenth Circuit thought that the common law of recklessness afforded a backstop in tort to ensure that the rules of civilized society do follow the players onto the field in some fashion, as an Illinois appellate court once put it.

Well just this weekend a similar, yet curiously different, after-the-whistle scenario unfolded in an American football game between Florida Gators (I know you were watching, Prof. Andrew McClurg)
wide receiver Brandon Powell and Tennessee Vols defensive back Rashaan Gaulden.  Sideline cameras were not on them at the time, but aerial footage shows what appears to be Powell throwing a punch at Gaulden and (intentionally?) not connecting, and Gaulden hitting the ground (show?).  The refs took the incident seriously enough that after much deliberation, they ejected Powell. 

CBS commentators were initially harsh on Powell, angry and forlorn as he walked to the locker room just before a commercial break.  But after the break, they had changed their tune and apologized to him, turning their venom on the refs.  One commentator took the opportunity to impugn soccer (really necessary?) with reference to Gaulden's dramatic performance, and another invoked Greg Louganis in an awkward metaphor for "taking a dive."  The commentary itself makes the clip worth watching, and at least at the time of this writing, it's available here: "Flop of the Year."

The case is easier than Hackbart's, as he suffered debilitating injury that contributed to the end of his athletic career.  The problem in Hackbart was one of consent: What exactly does an NFL player consent to?  It can't be that the consent analysis requires a player to consent to the precise nature of collision that might occur in every play.  But it can't be either that a player does not consent to a scope of possible violence, going even beyond the rules of the game but within the contemplation of penalty assessment.  Consent must be to some hard-to-define cloud of possible eventualities, not too specific, not too broad, and none too pleasant.

Consent could come in to play in arguable assault--causing apprehension in another without resulting contact--just as well as battery.  But assault, if even that was Gaulden's intent, does not seem so urgently to invite the courts to second-guess governance within the sport, as a policy matter.

Anyway that's just a thought experiment, as no one is suing anyone.  Players are at least that tough.  And concussion-gate notwithstanding, football self-regulation has come a long way since Billy "The Gun" Van Goff.