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Slaven v. City of Salem

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
438 N.E.2d 348 (1982)



Joseph Fitzgibbons was arrested for lewdness on May 19, 1979 and taken to the local jail in the city of Salem, Massachussetts (Salem) (defendant). The arresting officer had Fitzgibbons remove the contents of his pockets before placing him in a cell. The officer did not ask if Fitzgibbons was wearing a belt. Fitzgibbons’s shirt was untucked. Fitzgibbons’s sister, Slaven (plaintiff), visited that day and saw that Fitzgibbons was wearing a belt. After Slaven left, an officer found Fitzgibbons hanging by his belt from a bar in the cell door. The officer cut Fitzgibbons down and called for help, but Fitzgibbons could not be revived. Slaven, as administratrix of Fitzgibbons’s estate, sued Salem in Massachusetts Superior Court under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. G.L. c. 258. Salem moved for summary judgment, which was granted. In support of its motion, Salem offered affidavits from the officers on duty. None of the officers claimed to have suspected that Fitzgibbons was suicidal or known that he was wearing a belt. Slaven appealed the ruling to the Appeals Court, but the Supreme Judicial Court transferred the appeal to its own docket.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Liacos, J.)

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