Loffredo v. Center for Addictive Behaviors

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore WILKINS; FRIED
Citation689 N.E.2d 799,426 Mass. 541
Decision Date29 January 1998

Page 799

689 N.E.2d 799
426 Mass. 541
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Argued Nov. 4, 1997.
Decided Jan. 29, 1998.

Page 800

Mel Dahl, Fall River, for plaintiff.

Dava M. Feltch, Somerville, for defendant.

J. Paterson Rae, Ernest Winsor, Allan G. Rodgers, Judith Liben, Jennifer Honig, Jane K. Alper & Steven J. Schwartz, amici curiae, for Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants & others.

Scott Harshbarger, Attorney General, Amy Spector & Peter Sacks, Assistant Attorneys General, amici curiae, for Commonwealth.


FRIED, Justice.

The plaintiff, David Loffredo, brought this action against the Center for Addictive Behaviors (CAB) after CAB denied him admission to its outpatient methadone program. The plaintiff alleged that CAB's exclusion of him was based on the [426 Mass. 542] fact that he was earlier expelled from another methadone program, and hence violated 105 Code Mass. Regs. § 750.500(A)(2) (1986). CAB moved for summary judgment arguing that 105 Code Mass. Regs. § 750.500(A)(2) does not provide the plaintiff with a private cause of action.

On February 3, 1997, a Superior Court judge granted CAB's motion for summary judgment. We granted the plaintiff's petition for direct appellate review, and now affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

Page 801


The plaintiff claims that he became addicted to opiates as the result of treatment for schizophrenia. For over seventeen years, he was an outpatient at North Charles, Inc. (North Charles), a methadone clinic. On February 27, 1994, the plaintiff was discharged from North Charles after an argument with one of the clinic staff members. The plaintiff then sought and was denied admission to the outpatient methadone program operated by CAB.

General Laws c. 111E, § 7, which governs licensing and approval of drug treatment facilities, is the enabling statute pursuant to which the Commissioner of Public Heath promulgated the several provisions of 105 Code Mass. Regs. § 750.000 (1986). These provisions state the requirements a drug treatment facility must satisfy in order to be licensed by the division of drug rehabilitation of the Department of Public Health (department). Section 750.500(A)(2), in particular, states:

"No person shall be denied admission solely on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, sexual preference, national origin, ancestry, or the fact that she/he has been terminated by another treatment program " (emphasis added).

The plaintiff brought suit against CAB alleging that its decision to exclude him was based solely on his expulsion from North Charles, and claiming that CAB therefore violated 105 Code Mass. Regs. § 750.500(A)(2). He seeks personal damages and an injunction enjoining CAB to admit him into its methadone program. The plaintiff acknowledges that 105 Code Mass. Regs. § 750.500(A)(2) does not explicitly provide a cause of action to a person injured by a facility's failure to satisfy its requirements. He argues, however, that the provision provides an implied cause of action.

[426 Mass. 543] II


Many of our decisions support the proposition that a clear legislative intent is necessary to infer a private cause of action from a statute. See Borucki v. Ryan, 407 Mass. 1009, 555 N.E.2d 212 (1990); Unitrode Corp. v. Dynamics Corp., 379 Mass. 487, 491-493, 399 N.E.2d 5 (1980); Lindsey v. Massios, 372 Mass. 79, 84, 360 N.E.2d 631 (1977); SDK Medical Computer Servs. Corp. v. Professional Operating Mgt. Group, Inc., 371 Mass. 117, 122-123, 354 N.E.2d 852 (1976); Sullivan v. Fall River Hous. Auth., 348 Mass. 738, 739, 205 N.E.2d 701 (1965); Johnson v. United States Steel Corp., 348 Mass. 168, 169-170, 202 N.E.2d 816 (1964). In other decisions, while not demanding a clear indication of legislative intent, this court still considered legislative intent to be the determinative factor in deciding whether a private cause of action can be implied from a statute. Everett Town Taxi, Inc. v. Aldermen of Everett, 366 Mass. 534, 535-537, 320 N.E.2d 896 (1974). Commonwealth v. Haddad, 364 Mass. 795, 798-799, 308 N.E.2d 899 (1974).

The plaintiff and the social service organizations submitting a brief as amici curiae have, however, urged on us the decision in Berdos v. Tremont & Suffolk Mills, 209 Mass. 489, 95 N.E. 876 (1911), as setting out a better principle. In that case, the defendant had employed the minor plaintiff in violation of a criminal statute prohibiting child labor. The plaintiff sued the defendant upon being injured. Deciding that the plaintiff had a cause of action, this court stated:

"It is a general rule of statutory interpretation that a violation of a duty created by statute, resulting in damage to one of the class for whose benefit the duty was established, confers a right of action upon the injured person."

Id. at 492, 95 N.E. 876. After discussing the purposes of the statute, the court went on to note:

"These considerations require the inference that the remedy intended by the Legislature against the delinquent employer was not confined to the criminal one. The right of civil action in addition may well have been regarded as a more efficacious means of compelling observance of the law. Therefore, while the public purposes of this act are [426 Mass. 544] important, any member of the public so situated with reference to its subject matter as to suffer special damage

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by its infraction has a right of action against the violator of the statute."

Id. at 493, 95 N.E. 876. Recently, the Appeals Court adopted the broad standard of Berdos in Ludlow Educ. Ass'n v. Ludlow, 31 Mass.App.Ct. 110, 118-120, 644 N.E.2d 227 (1991).

It is worth noting that the court in Berdos qualified its holding considerably in the latter part of its opinion. The court stated that an employer's violation of a statute is an indication of his negligence, and that an employer is not liable if a minor employee is injured due to the employee's own carelessness. Berdos v. Tremont & Suffolk Mills, supra at 496, 95 N.E. 876. It is therefore better to read Berdos as holding that a defendant's violation of a statute that leads to...

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