Mayor immune from suit after shark attack

by James Norman


Estate of Kitner vs Vaughn (Mass. Court of Appeals, 1976)

The estate of Alex Kintner sues Larry Vaughn, the mayor of Amity, a resort town in Massachusetts following his unfortunate death at the hands, or jaws as it were, of a great white shark, nicknamed "Bruce". Plaintiffs seek damages due to Vaughn's decision to keep the beaches open despite the warnings from his chief of police and the advice of a noted scientist. The Court below granted defendants motion to dismiss as his actions were performed in his official capacity and therefore he was under qualified immunity from civil suit.

Mayor Vaughn feigning sadness following his fateful decision

Mayor Vaughn feigning sadness following his fateful decision

Under the law, executive officials acting in their official capacity are immune from civil suits unless the action in question violated a constitutional right or clearly established law. The court found that Mayor Vaughn's decision did not violate the law or constitution. Further, the Court held that the decision to close the beach was made in official capacity, despite any local legislative authority. The Court further noted that "if we allow civil suits against public officials every a supernaturally large shark attacks someone in this country, then the Courts would be overrun with lawsuits and the practice of Justice would slow to a crawl."