Owner Not Liable for Shooting Death
Facts: The family of a 16-year-old boy sued a site owner over the shooting death of the boy outside of his cousin’s apartment. According to an affidavit of the property manager, the boy was shot by a visitor of a resident. Another resident testified that the shooter had been staying at his girlfriend’s apartment at the site for two years. The shooter was the father of one of the resident’s children, and he would stay and babysit his child while the resident worked.
The victim’s family claimed that the site owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the prior violent criminal conduct of the shooter and that an atmosphere of violence existed at the site at the time of the shooting. A trial court granted a judgment without a trial in the owner’s favor. It found that, while the shooter had lived on, or daily visited, the property for approximately two years, the owner possessed neither actual nor constructive knowledge of his presence, since he hadn’t been added to the resident’s lease and no complaints had previously been filed involving him. The trial court further found that the family had not rebutted the conclusions of the owner’s expert witness who examined crime data from the local police department for the three-year period preceding the shooting. He testified that no atmosphere of violence existed at the site. Having reviewed the police report of the incident, area crime data, and the deposition testimony of the witnesses, he concluded that no evidence existed that tended to put the site on notice that the shooter posed a threat to residents.
The family appealed, arguing that the shooter himself constituted an unreasonably dangerous condition and that the site had constructive knowledge both of his presence at the complex and of his violent nature. They further asserted that the owner, by incorporating into the tenants’ written lease contracts property rules and policies, assumed the duty to prevent rule and policy violations and thereby rendered third-party criminal acts foreseeable.
Ruling: The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s judgment.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the apartment building didn’t have constructive knowledge of the shooter’s violent nature, because the apartment building had no duty to conduct a criminal history background check on its residents, let alone a guest of the resident like the shooter, and no evidence showed that the apartment building ever learned of a complaint against the shooter or that his criminal history included a violent crime. Also, the court ruled that the site’s rules and policies didn’t render third-party criminal acts foreseeable by imposing a duty on it to prevent rule and policy violations.
- Mitchell v. Ridgewood East Apartments, LLC, December 2016