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FMG Law Blog Line

Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas’

Can Governments be Liable for Mass Shootings under the Constitution?

Posted on: February 11th, 2019

By: Phil Savrin

The recent tragedies of mass shootings have spawned litigation over the civil liabilities of state governments for failing to protect members of the public from harm, particularly when there were advance warning signs that police departments overlooked or ignored. To evaluate whether States can be liable under the Constitution for such conduct we need to reach back 30 years to a decision by the Supreme Court called DeShaney. In that case, county officials had allowed an abused child to remain in a household despite knowledge of mistreatment, after which the boy was left permanently disfigured. In considering a civil rights claim brought on his behalf under the due process clause, the Supreme Court reasoned that the Constitution places limitations on the government’s ability to act and does not affirmatively require it to provide services that benefit the public. It is up to the individuals States to allocate resources to provide for public safety, in other words, as opposed to an obligation mandated by the Due Process Clause. That said, the Supreme Court reasoned that it is only when the State takes some action that puts a person in peril that the Constitution imposes “some corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and general well-being.”

Cases applying DeShaney’s reasoning are often heart-wrenching, as they tend to involve very egregious injuries that could have been avoided had law enforcement officers acted on knowledge they possessed. The most extreme example applying DeShaney can be found in the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Town of Castle Rock, where police officers refused the desperate pleas of a citizen to arrest her estranged husband who had violated a restraining order, resulting in the father’s murder of the couple’s three daughters. These harms could have been avoided had the State acted to intercede, yet it is only when the State by its conduct affirmatively puts the person in danger that the State has a constitutional obligation to protect that individual from harm.

Which brings us to the question of mass shootings such as the incidents at the Pulse nightclub in 2016 where a gunman killed 49 people or the high school in Florida in 2018 where a student opened fire killing 17 persons. In lawsuits that followed, allegations were made that government officials either ignored warnings or intentionally failed to act, thereby violating the constitutional rights of the victims. In both circumstances, however, the federal courts applied DeShaney to conclude that without danger created affirmatively by the State’s conduct, there is no constitutional right to protection where the harm begins and ends with the actions of a private citizen.

The absence of a constitutional claim in these circumstances does not, of course, mean that there can be no remedy of any sort. What these cases hold instead is that any such remedy exists by reference to state law as the federal Constitution is a bulwark against governmental interference in the public arena and is not a guarantor of safety for the citizenry.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Phil Savrin at [email protected].

Will the Las Vegas Tragedy Change the Hospitality Industry?

Posted on: December 8th, 2017

By: America Vidana

Hundreds of victims of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas have filed several suits in both California and Nevada courts against Mandalay Bay, MGM Resorts and LiveNation. The victims accused the hotel operator, MGM Resorts International, and its subsidiary, Mandalay Corp, which owns the hotel, of failing to properly monitor the shooter’s activities, train staff members and employ adequate security measures.

Additionally, the lawsuits accused the concert promoter, LiveNation, and the concert venue owner, also MGM, of failing to design, build or mark adequate emergency exits and to properly train and supervise employees in an appropriate plan of action in case of an emergency.

In order to prevail in such cases, a plaintiff must prove that the premises operators were negligent and the incident was reasonably foreseeable. Given the instant facts and the history of lawsuits following mass shootings, this will be an uphill battle for the victims unless they can show Mandalay Bay, MGM Resorts and LiveNation were careless and could have done more to prevent the shooting.

The shooter, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, was a retired multi-millionaire, who invested in real estate, gambled for fun and had no criminal antecedents. He reportedly was a “high-roller,” who was well-known in the gambling world and frequented casinos such as Mandalay Bay, for weeks at a time. By all accounts, the shooter did not display any unusual or suspicious behavior that may have alerted Mandalay Bay security of a potential threat to safety.

Arguments have been made that Mandalay Bay security should have been more vigilant of the 23 legally purchased guns, including high-caliber assault weapons, the shooter took to his room over the course of three days, or alternatively, that some inspection procedure, whether metal detectors or bag checks, should have been in place to detect such weapons. While Mandalay Bay, in addition to every major Las Vegas casino, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly to catch illegal gamblers, it somehow failed to detect the plethora of artillery being transported through its casino floor. The shooter reportedly also installed cameras in the hallways, and declined room service for several days—bringing into question Mandalay Bay’s policies regarding room service and duration between checking a guest’s room.

Even more damaging to Mandalay Bay, a security guard was allegedly shot several minutes before the mass shooting ensued. Strangely, there was a six-minute lapse in Mandalay Bar’s response time from the initial shooting of the guard to the actual mass shooting. This will likely be one of the bigger issues MGM will face, as this arguably should have provided notice of the danger, and plausibly provided a reasonable opportunity to minimize, if not prevent, the casualties.

However, the litigation trail following mass shootings have largely favored the establishment. Notably, in a similar suit arising out of the Aurora, Colorado theater mass shooting at a showing of The Dark Knight Returns, the court dismissed claims of those injured against the theater because the crime was not foreseeable at the time and because the crime was an intervening and superseding cause of the harm. While not directly applicable in the Ninth Circuit, the court’s rationale and legal principles will surely be persuasive. But being the first such presentation of a case against the hospitality juggernaut, the court’s decision could set new precedent on industry standards for safety and emergency response.

For further information or for further inquiries involving hospitality law, you may contact America Vidana of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP, at [email protected].