Case Caption: Tunica County v. Matthews

Cite: — S.W.2d —, 2006 WL 948057

Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi

Facts: In a condemnation proceeding, Tunica County sought land currently utilized for agricultural purposes for an airport expansion. The landowner’s expert appraised the property’s highest and best use as commercial or industrial, under which the property would be valued at $4,500 per acre. The county’s expert offered a value of $2,000 per acre, based on its current usage. The hotly-contested issue, of course, was value, and the expert’s testimony regarding commercial/industrial use was the sole issue on appeal. The County moved to exclude the opinion and testimony at issue, and the trial court granted the motion in part. However, the landowner’s expert’s opinion as to value didn’t change, and the County renewed its motion to exclude. This time, the trial court denied, and the County objected on Daubert grounds, arguing that the testimony wasn’t based on scientific principles as the Daubert rule requires.

Holding: The Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s ruling, holding that under the two-prong Daubert test, the landowner’s expert’s testimony was admissible. The "gatekeeper" function of the trial court, the Supreme Court held, turned on the analysis of certain factors evincing reliability, such as:

  • whether the theory or technique relied upon can be tested;
  • whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication;
  • whether there is a high rate of error;
  • whether there are standards controlling its operation or application; and
  • whether the technique enjoys general acceptance within the scientific community.

The Supreme Court held there was no abuse of discretion in the second ruling admitting the testimony.

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Wease. Twooooo Wease.

March 9, 2006

So, I’ve been promising an entry on the United Airlines v HSBC case ever since we got back from the AAAE conference last October, I realize. And – truthfully, I’ve tried a few times to start this, but I pick up the case’s opinions and something happens to me – the words start to dance and sway, and suddenly, it seems like an opportune time to clean the dust out of the little nooks and crannies between the keys on my keyboard. Or something.

Face it – I am bankruptcy-case-phobic. Something about that code – that code! those rules! – scares me a little. Then it occurred to me: others may feel the same way, and thus, it could be of great service to my fellow AAs to summarize the issues and explain why the case is important.

So, here it is. The United "true lease" case – right after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Case NameJackson v. Swordfish Investments, LLC (link to Shearouse Advance Sheets here)
Court: South Carolina Supreme Court
Date of Opinion: September 6, 2005
Cite: 365 S.C. 608, 620 S.E.2d 54

Issue: Does a commercial landlord bear liability to an invitee of a sublessee for injuries sustained through the criminal actions of a third party where the landlord had undertaken the provision of security services in the common areas only?

Conclusion: Not under these facts, but possibly in another case.

Facts: Plaintiff, Ms. Jackson, sued Swordfish as the landlord of Club Voodoo, owned by Uptop Management, for injuries she receivd as a result of gunshot wounds, when an assailant, previously bounced by club employees due to a fight, came back in while plaintiff was leaving and began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. Plaintiff was shot several times. The tenant had previously requested Swordfish to provide enhanced security for the mall common areas surrounding the club due to numerous past complaints of and arrests for drugs, violence, and other illegal behavior by loiterers and other invitees in the area. Because of the high cost of off-duty police officers, and tenant complaints thereof, Swordfish eventually retained a private security firm to provide security in the common areas.

Procedural Posture: This case came to the Supremes on Swordfish’s successful motion for summary judgment. Ms. Jackson appealed, claiming error in several respects.

Analysis: Relying heavily on Cramer v. Balcor Proprety Management, Inc., 312 S.C. 440, 441 S.E.2d 17 (1994), a case in which the District Court certified a question of residential landlord liability for criminal activities of others to the Supremes, the Court held that there is no general duty to protect tenants from such activity. The court rejected Jackson’s argument that her status as an invitee changed the result, and stressed that the injuries were sustained within the leased premises, not the common areas, and hence Swordfish had no control over actual location where the shooting occurred.

Jackson argued that this was irrelevant, because the action of the security guards in the common areas was the proximate cause of her injuries; more precisely, that the guards should have prevented the assailant, once removed, from re-entering the club in the first place, and that this failure was the proximate cause of her injuries. The court rejected this approach, although a well-written dissent by Justice Pleicones picks up that line of reasoning and runs with it.

The court also rejected the application of the affirmative acts exception to the "no-liability" rule in this case, finding that Swordfish undertook only the security for the common areas, not the leased premises themselves.

Application to Airports: Airports and the governmental entities that run them should breathe a bit easier at this ruling. In their proprietary capacity, government units that operate airports act as a commercial landlord. The Jackson case reiterates that there is no blanket, general duty to invitees on the part of the commercial landlord. There is a catch, though: once security is undertaken within the leased premises, there could be a duty to exercise reasonable care extended to invitees.

TSA works in conjunction with local LEOs to provide terminal security, usually provided with the airport’s own forces or those of the owning/operating governmental entity. There is now statutory protection for airports against liability for damages arising from the discretionary decision as to whether to seek privatization of terminal security or not, but that would not extend to those situations outside the terminal, or to situations outside TSA’s jurisdiction and/or response parameters (il.e., a parking lot attack, etc.).

Also of applicability in the airport context is the public duty doctrine, which holds that the duty of the public safety forces of a local government entity is to the public in general, not to a specific person, unless the plaintiff can show that the officer in question undertook a special relationship wherein she or he affirmatively acted in such a way that would give rise to such a duty.