436 Mass. 94 (2002), Donaldson v. Farrakhan

Citation436 Mass. 94, 762 N.E.2d 835
Party NameMARCELINE DONALDSON & another [1] v. LOUIS FARRAKHAN & others. [2]
Case DateFebruary 13, 2002
CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Page 94

436 Mass. 94 (2002)

762 N.E.2d 835

MARCELINE DONALDSON & another 1

v.

LOUIS FARRAKHAN & others. 2

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex.

February 13, 2002

October 2, 2001.

Present (Sitting at Salem): MARSHALL, C.

J., GREANEY, IRELAND, SPINA, COWIN, SOSMAN, & CORDY, JJ.

Practice, Civil, Directed verdict. Anti-Discrimination Law, Public accommodation. Constitutional Law, Freedom of association, Freedom of speech and press.

In an action claiming that the defendants violated the plaintiffs' civil rights under G.L.c. 272, Sections 92A and 98, when one of the plaintiffs, a woman, was refused admittance to a theatre on the night of a speech by a leader of the Nation of Islam, the judge was warranted in concluding that the plaintiffs produced insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that the speech was a public, secular function, and therefore the plaintiffs failed to prove that the theatre was a place of public accommodation at the time in question. [97-100] Application of the public accommodation laws, G.L.c. 272, Sections 92A and 98, to compel a leader of the Nation of IsIam to address women in the religious organization's meeting for men only, which addressed viewpoints specific to men of the faith, would impermissibly interfere with the organization's rights under the First Amendment to the United States

Constitution. [100-102]

CIVIL ACTION commenced in the Superior Court Department on February 22, 1995.

The case was heard by Regina L. Quinlan, J., on a motion for a directed verdict.

The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

Gretchen Van Ness for the plaintiffs. Denzil D. McKenzie (Wilbur P. Edwards, Jr., & Abdul Arif Muhammad with him) for the defendants.

IRELAND, J. The plaintiffs, Marceline Donaldson and Robert A.

Page 95

Bennett, claim the defendants, Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam, Don Muhammad, and Muhammad's Mosque No. 11 (mosque) violated their civil rights under G.L.c. 272, Sections 92A & 98, when Marceline Donaldson was refused admittance to the Strand Theatre (theatre) on the night of a speech by Louis Farrakhan. 3 The defendants moved for a directed verdict at the close of the plaintiffs' case, which the judge granted. The plaintiffs appealed. We transferred the case to this court on our own motion. We conclude that the plaintiffs failed to produce sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that the theatre was a place of public accommodation on the night in question. We further conclude that, in any event, the application of the public accommodation laws to compel Louis Farrakhan to address women in a mosque's men's meeting would impermissibly interfere with the defendants' rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. We affirm.

I. Facts.

The relevant facts are as follows. On March 10, 1994, the plaintiffs were at their antiques shop in Cambridge when they learned that Farrakhan was to speak that evening at the theatre in the Dorchester section of Boston. The plaintiffs believed that they learned of the event through the media, but could not identify the source, or whether it was by way of advertisement or news report. The plaintiffs, who had no prior contact with Farrakhan, were interested in hearing his message. They closed their shop early that evening, and drove to the theatre.

As the plaintiffs approached the theatre, they noticed people gathering outside. They proceeded toward the door where a line was forming; Donaldson was in front of Bennett. She was ushered aside by a security official who told her that no women were allowed into the theatre. The same official waved Bennett inside, but Bennett stopped when the security official barred Donaldson's entry. Bennett tried to explain that he and Donaldson

Page 96

were together, but the official simply reiterated that no women were allowed to enter the theatre. The plaintiffs were upset by the incident and decided to return home.

The plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (commission), against Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam, Don Muhammad, the mosque, and the M. Harriet McCormack Center for the Arts (McCormack Center), the theatre's management company. 4 On September 29, 1995, the commission found probable cause to believe that the defendants had committed an unlawful practice in violation of the Commonwealth's antidiscrimination laws. The plaintiffs filed their complaint against the defendants in the Superior Court on February 22, 1995.

II. Discussion.

The standard applied to a motion for a directed verdict is identical to that applied to a motion for summary judgment for most purposes. See Kaitz v. Foreign Motors, Inc., 25 Mass.App.Ct. 198, 200 (1987), and cases cited. The judge must determine, on viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, whether a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, or if the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Alholm v. Wareham, 371 Mass. 621 , 627 (1976); Campbell v. Thornton, 368 Mass. 528 , 535 (1975); W. Oliver Tripp Co. v. American Hoechst Corp., 34 Mass.App.Ct. 744, 751 (1993). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. The judge's inquiry, therefore, unavoidably asks whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict. . . ." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).

The defendants' memorandum in support of their motion for a directed verdict asserted that the plaintiffs failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish (1) any harm to Bennett, (2) any liability on the part of Farrakhan, Don Muhammad, and the Nation of Islam for the conduct of the mosque, (3) that the mosque barred Donaldson from entry into the theatre, (4) that the men's

Page 97

meeting constituted a public accommodation, and (5) that the defendants coerced the plaintiffs not to attend the meeting. The defendants also asserted that the application of the public accommodation law to require the admittance of women to the men's meeting would violate their constitutional rights to free speech and religion. Finally, the defendants averred that the plaintiffs failed to establish any damages.

The judge who granted the motion ruled that the theatre was not a place of public accommodation at the time the speech was held. We affirm.

A. Sufficiency of the evidence.

The public accommodation statutes, G.L.c. 272, Sections 92A and 98, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, among other factors, in relation to the admission of or treatment of any person in a place of public accommodation. General Laws c. 272, Section 92A, defines a place of public accommodation as "any place, whether licensed or unlicensed, which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public," and includes "an auditorium, theatre, music hall, meeting place or hall, including common halls of buildings."

The plaintiffs were required to submit sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the theatre was a place of public accommodation on the night in question. The plaintiffs attempted to meet this burden through the admission of evidence to indicate that the meeting on March 10, 1994, was not a religious men's meeting of the mosque, but a community event open to the public. The judge was warranted in concluding that the plaintiffs did not meet their burden.

Viewed in the light most favorable to them, the plaintiffs rely on the following evidence. The theatre is owned by the city of Boston and is leased to various groups and entities. A week prior to the event, on behalf of the mosque, Virginia Muhammad signed a lease with the McCormack Center. The lease stated that the use would be for a "[m]en's meeting on black on black crime, violence, and...

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60 practice notes
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • October 26, 2017
    ...inclusion of women into a mosque's religious men's meeting would violate the freedom of expressive association. Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 762 N.E.2d 835, 840-41 (Mass. 2002). The Supreme Court has also held that the government's interest in addressing orientation discrimination is not suffici......
  • Graber v. Epro, 010710 MACMLC, MISC 07-344259
    • United States
    • January 7, 2010
    ...viewing the record before it, the court reviews “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94, 96 (2002). In the instant matter, there are no genuine issues of material fact, within the meaning of Mass. R. Civ. P. 56(c), and, therefo......
  • Lazarus v. Knowles, 011912 MACMLC, MISC 10-420255
    • United States
    • January 19, 2012
    ...viewing the record before it, the Court reviews “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94, 96 (2002). On the present record, this court concludes that there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to the issues addressed and re......
  • Collins v. Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, 032312 MACMLC, MISC 09-407809
    • United States
    • March 23, 2012
    ...viewing the record before it, the court reviews “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94, 96 (2002). On the present record, this court concludes that there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to the fee ownership in the ri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
56 cases
  • Graber v. Epro, 010710 MACMLC, MISC 07-344259
    • United States
    • January 7, 2010
    ...viewing the record before it, the court reviews “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94, 96 (2002). In the instant matter, there are no genuine issues of material fact, within the meaning of Mass. R. Civ. P. 56(c), and, therefo......
  • Lazarus v. Knowles, 011912 MACMLC, MISC 10-420255
    • United States
    • January 19, 2012
    ...viewing the record before it, the Court reviews “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94, 96 (2002). On the present record, this court concludes that there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to the issues addressed and re......
  • Collins v. Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, 032312 MACMLC, MISC 09-407809
    • United States
    • March 23, 2012
    ...viewing the record before it, the court reviews “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94, 96 (2002). On the present record, this court concludes that there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to the fee ownership in the ri......
  • Nps, Llc v. Stubhub, Inc., 012209 MASUP, 064874BLS1
    • United States
    • Massachusetts Superior Court of Massachusetts
    • January 22, 2009
    ...to the plaintiff, no reasonable jury could find in the plaintiff's favor based on that evidence. See generally Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94, 96 (2002) ("The standard applied to a motion for a directed verdict is identical to that applied to a motion for summary judgment..."......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Freedom of expressive association and government subsidies.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 58 Nbr. 6, April 2006
    • April 1, 2006
    ...times, prohibitions concerning Cohens marrying converts "are not generally regarded"). (7.) See, e.g., Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 762 N.E.2d 835 (Mass. 2002) (upholding Nation of Islam's right to organize its meetings this way); City of Cleveland v. Nation of Islam, 922 F. Supp. 56 (......
  • The stubborn persistence of sex segregation.
    • United States
    • Columbia Journal of Gender and Law Vol. 20 Nbr. 1, January 2011
    • January 1, 2011
    ...Maine. Human Rights Comm'n v. Le Club Calumet, 609 A.2d 285 (Me. 1992) (local Franco-American club); Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 762 N.E. 2d 835 (Mass. 2002) (mosque using city-owned theater); Concord Rod & Gun Club, Inc. v. Mass. Comm'n Against Discrimination, 524 N.E. 2d 1364 (Mass. 1988)......
  • Freedom for the press as an industry, or for the press as a technology? From the framing to today.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 160 Nbr. 2, January 2012
    • January 1, 2012
    ...281, 289-90 (D. Md. 1988). (362) City of Cleveland v. Nation of Islam, 922 F. Supp. 56, 59 (N.D. Ohio 1995); Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 762 N.E.2d 835, 841 (Mass. (363) I have found no post-Nelson case so far that tracks Nelson in allowing newspapers--or other speakers--to discriminate in choi......
1 provisions
  • Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 26, 2017
    • October 26, 2017
    ...inclusion of women into a mosque's religious men's meeting would violate the freedom of expressive association. Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 762 N.E.2d 835, 840-41 (Mass. 2002). The Supreme Court has also held that the government's interest in addressing orientation discrimination is not suffici......