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Brooks v. Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 2, 2020

Kevin BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
MARTHA'S VINEYARD TRANSIT AUTHORITY; Transit Connection, Inc.; and James Taylor, Defendants.

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          Eric R. LeBlanc, Craig D. Levey, Lauren B. Haskins, Bennett & Belfort PC, Cambridge, MA, for Plaintiff.

          John P. Coakley, Susan E. Devlin, Murphy & Riley, PC, Paul G. Boylan, Thomas K. McCraw, Jr., Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP, Boston, MA, Marielise Kelly, Elise R. Marshall, Gargiulo/Rudnick, LLP, Mashpee, MA, John J. Lang, Lang & Associates, Lynnfield, MA, for Defendants.

         MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         YOUNG, D.J.

         The present motions for summary judgment raise, among other matters, important

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questions as to the applicability of several Massachusetts anti-discrimination statutes to governmental entities. Scant judicial ink has been spilled addressing governmental liability under some of these laws. These lacunae are perhaps understandable for the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act, passed in 1989, but it is more surprising for the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Law, first enacted in 1865 and amended many times since. With old and new statutes alike, the Court strives rightly to interpret and justly to apply the law.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES the motion of Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority for summary judgment as to the claims under the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Law (Count I) and the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act (Count II), but GRANTS the motion as to the claims under section 1981 (Count III), negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count V), and chapter 93A (Count VI). The Court further DENIES the motion of Transit Connection, Inc. for summary judgment as to Counts I, II, III, and VI but GRANTS the motion as to Count V.

         I. Undisputed Facts and Procedural History

         These motions for summary judgment arise from an incident on Martha's Vineyard, in which the following facts are undisputed. On July 11, 2018, Kevin Brooks ("Brooks") sought to board a bus in Edgartown, Massachusetts. Concise Statement Material Facts Pursuant L.R. 56.1 ("Vineyard Transit Auth. SOF") ¶ 19, ECF No. 54; Statement Material Facts Def. Transit Connection Inc. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Transit Connection's SOF") ¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. 51. When the Route 13 bus passed without picking Brooks up on the way to the ferry terminal, he ordered a ride on Uber, a ride sharing application. Id.; Vineyard Transit Auth. SOF ¶ 28. Brooks caught up with the bus and asked the bus driver, James Taylor ("Taylor"), why the bus passed him. Id. ¶ 40; Transit Connection's SOF ¶ 10. During a brief back-and-forth, Taylor first responded "I don't know," then stated "I was full," which led to a dispute between Brooks and Taylor as to whether the bus was full. Id. ¶¶ 13-14; Vineyard Transit Auth. SOF ¶¶ 41-45. Taylor then said "[w]ell, it's because you're black," and the two continued to debate whether the bus was full. Transit Connection's SOF ¶ 14; Vineyard Transit Auth. SOF ¶ 46. The interaction was captured on video, a portion of which has been provided to the Court. Id., Ex. 5, BUSWATCH Software Brooks v. Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Auth. (CDROM, 11, Jul. 2018), ECF No. 54-5. Two days after the incident, on July 13, 2018, Taylor was fired by Transit Connection. Transit Connection's SOF ¶ 15.

         Brooks claims that he "felt utter shock and disbelief" and began to cry. Vineyard Transit Auth. SOF ¶¶ 53-55. Brooks states that he has since replayed the incident over and over in his mind. Id. ¶ 56. Brooks believes the incident "exacerbated preexisting emotional distress caused by discrimination he has previously suffered" and asserts he has lost sleep due to the incident. Id. ¶¶ 57-58.

         On May 15, 2019, Brooks filed a complaint in this Court against Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority ("Vineyard Transit Authority"), Transit Connection, Inc. ("Transit Connection"), and Taylor (collectively, "Defendants"). Pl.'s Compl. Demand Jury Trial ("Compl."), ECF No. 1. Specifically, Brooks asserts the following counts: (1) Defendants violated the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Law; (2) Defendants violated the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act; (3) Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (4) Taylor is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress; (5) Defendants are liable for negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (6) Vineyard

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Transit Authority and Transit Connection violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. Compl. ¶¶ 26-55. Brooks is seeking compensatory, consequential, treble and punitive damages, as well as costs and attorneys' fees. Id. 8.

         On October 1, 2019, Vineyard Transit Authority and Transit Connection each moved for summary judgment. Def. Martha's Vineyard Transit Auth.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 49; Mot. Summ. J. Def. Transit Connection Inc., ECF No. 50. All parties fully briefed the issues. Mem. Law Def. Transit Connection Inc. Supp. TCI Mot. Summ. J. ("Transit Connection's Mem."), ECF No. 52; Def. Martha's Vineyard Transit Auth.'s Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Vineyard Transit Authority's Mem."), ECF No. 53; Opp'n. Pl., Kevin Brooks, Def. Martha's Vineyard Transit Auth.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n Vineyard"), ECF No. 60; Pl.'s Opp'n Def. Transit Connection Inc.'s Mot. Summ. J ("Pl.'s Opp'n Transit Connection"), ECF No. 62; Def. Marthas Vineyard Transit Auth.'s Reply Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Vineyard Transit Authority's Reply"), ECF No. 67. The Court heard argument on the motions for summary judgment on November 25, 2019 and took the matter under advisement. Electronic Clerk's Notes, ECF No. 70.

         II. Analysis

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). "The party with the burden of proof must provide evidence sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable fact-finder could find other than in its favor." South Middlesex Opportunity Council, Inc. v. Town of Framingham, 752 F.Supp.2d 85, 95 (D. Mass. 2010) (Woodlock, J.) (quoting Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Torres, 561 F.3d 74, 77 (1st Cir. 2009)).

         A. Massachusetts Public ...


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