A Victory for all Massachusetts Municipal Light Departments

Ferriter Scobbo & Rodophele, PC secured an important victory for its clients the Massachusetts Municipal Utility Self-Insurance Trust Fund (the “Trust”) and Trust member the Middleborough Gas & Electric Department regarding the applicability of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (the “Act”).

In St. Laurent and Mansueto v. Middleborough Gas & Electric Department, the Superior Court judge had ruled that Massachusetts Municipal Light Departments were not “public employers” for purposes of the Act and, thus, the Act’s presentment requirement was inapplicable. Because the Superior Court’s decision had the potential for far-reaching adverse consequences and impacts on all Massachusetts Municipal Light Departments, the Trust pursued an appeal on behalf of MGED.

On appeal, Ferriter Scobbo argued that the express language of the Act and its legislative history clearly demonstrated that MGED was a “public employer” and entitled to presentment.  The plaintiffs argued that the language in the Act excluding “other independent bodies” from the definition of “public employer” meant that MGED was not a “public employer.” 

On April 4, 2018, the Massachusetts Appeals Court issued its decision. The Appeals Court agreed with Ferriter Scobbo and disagreed with the plaintiffs.  The Appeals Court, in a short and to-the-point opinion held that the “other independent bodies” language had to yield to the more specific inclusion of “municipal gas and electric plants” in the definition of “public employer.”  The Appeals Court found that MGED, as a department of the Town of Middleborough and a gas or electric plant “squarely meets the statutory definition” and is a “public employer” subject to the Act.