On March 13, 2023, Pioneer Public Interest Law Center (PPILC) filed an amicus brief in the case of Norvella Hill-Junious v. UTP Realty, LLC. The brief was in support of Uyen Phan, a Vietnamese immigrant who took her savings from operating a nail salon in Randolph and in late 2016 purchased the small commercial building in which her business is located. In February 2017, a murder took place in the parking lot of the City Limits Saloon, another business in the plaza. The decedent’s mother sued Uyen and UTP Realty, alleging that the murder was foreseeable and that owners of commercial real estate have a duty to implement measures to prevent such foreseeable crimes on the premises.
PPILC’s brief brought to the SJC’s attention the negative public policy implications of the appellant’s proposal to extend premises liability in this manner. Such a rule would unfairly impact immigrant entrepreneurs, who are often unsophisticated buyers of commercial real estate in crime-ridden neighborhoods. Imposing a duty to conduct “criminal background checks” on commercial properties would increase the cost of buying and would likely raise premises liability insurance rates in high-crime areas, thus depressing commercial real estate values and sales in these neighborhoods.
In August 2023, the SJC upheld the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants, finding that such an act was not foreseeable. The SJC determined that the plaintiff offered no precedent to support her claim that commercial landowners have a duty to inquire about any history of criminal activity on their properties.