Sunday, November 10, 2013

Harry Stoller and Co. v. City of Lowell case brief

Harry Stoller and Co. v. City of Lowell case brief summary
587 N.E.2d 780 (1992)

Appellant owner filed an action against appellee city based upon the alleged negligence of city firefighters in fighting fires in the owner's buildings. The Superior Court (Massachusetts), entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, finding that the city was exempt from liability under the discretionary function exception of § 10 (b) of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, codified at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258. The owner appealed.

The owner argued that the firefighters' negligence in failing to use the sprinkler system in the building led to the extensive damage to his building, but the trial court found that despite the negligence, the city was entitled to immunity based upon the discretionary function exemption of § 10(b).


  • On appeal, the court disagreed and reversed the trial court's judgment. 
  • The negligent conduct that caused the fire to engulf all the owner's buildings was not founded on planning or policy considerations. 
  • The question whether to put higher water pressure in the sprinkler systems involved no policy choice or planning decision. 
  • The firefighters may have thought that they had a discretionary choice whether to pour water on the buildings through hoses or to put water inside the buildings through their sprinkler systems. 
  • They certainly had discretion in the sense that no statute, regulation, or established municipal practice required the firefighters to use the sprinklers, but whatever discretion they had was not based on a policy or planning judgment. 
  • Therefore, the discretionary function exception did not shield the city from liability.


The court reversed the trial court's entry of a judgment notwithstanding the jury.

Suggested Study Aids For Tort Law

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