High Court holds that merchants and landlords owe the same limited duty to invitees: the duty to call police if criminal activity poses an imminent risk
A divided Supreme Court "consolidated" the Court's minimization of a land possessor's duty to invitees this week when four Justices held that the same rules should apply to both landlords and merchants with regard to protecting against anticipated criminal behavior. The case arose out of a personal injury lawsuit by Devon Scott Bailey against Steven Gerome Schaaf and various property owners and managers involved with the Evergreen Regency Townhouses.
In 2006, Bailey attended an outdoor social gathering at the Evergreen apartment complex which was patrolled by private security guards hired by the complex. A resident of the complex informed the guards that Schaaf was bradishing a revolver and threatening to kill someone. The guards apparently decided that "desertion was the better part of valor" and took no action. Schaaf then shot Bailey in the back, paralyzing him from the waist down. He sued the shooter, the apartment complex and the employer of the guards.
The lower courts held that despite recent Republican majority decisions limiting the duties of the possessor of land, the defendants in the instant case still owed a duty to call police when they learned of imminent criminal behavior. In a mixture of opinions, the high court cnfirmed that where a landlord or merchant becomes aware that an invitee is subject to imminent danger as a result of potential criminal behavior, the merchant or landlord has a duty to call police-. The majority reaffirmed the Justices' opinion that the merchant or landlord has no other duty to anticipate criminal behavior, to provide security or to protect invitees from criminal conduct of third parties.
In a 32 page dissent, Justice Markman objected to the ruling and argued that the defendants owed no duty to the injured man.