In this appeal, we hold that a bar owner did not owe a duty either to warn or protect its patrons from criminal acts that occurred on another landowner's property. The bar patrons in this case were the victims of a robbery and murder that occurred when they parked their car in a public lot behind the bar. Although the bar management was aware of crime in the area, they encouraged prospective patrons to come, noting "free parking directly behind" the bar. Nevertheless, plaintiffs failed to produce facts sufficient to create an inference that the bar owner controlled the parking lot or was otherwise responsible for its patrons' exposure to criminal conduct in the area. Thus, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court dismissing the complaint upon the bar owner's motion for summary judgment.
This case involves the December 1999 robbery and murder that occurred in a parking lot near the Bottlecaps Bar and Restaurant (Bottlecaps). At approximately 10:00 p.m. on December 18, 1999, Stephanie Krueck and Denise Rhudy entered a public parking lot owned by the Wilmington Parking Authority (WPA) located at Eighth and Orange Streets,
Rhudy and Krueck did not reach Bottlecaps that evening. When Rhudy parked her car in the Orange Street Lot, an assailant approached the car and robbed the two women at gunpoint. When Rhudy told the assailant she did not have any money, the robber shot her twice. Rhudy died in the parking lot from wounds inflicted by the gun shots. The assailant also attempted to shoot Krueck, but the bullet passed through her coat, leaving Krueck physically unharmed.
Krueck and Rhudy's estate brought actions in the Superior Court claiming that Bottlecaps was civilly liable for wrongful death as a result of the robbery and murder.
The plaintiffs conducted discovery to determine the extent to which Bottlecaps used the Orange Street Lot for its business.
Bottlecaps also assumed some minor responsibilities for the Lot. The WPA encountered extensive litter on the Lot following weekends and assumed Bottlecaps patrons were responsible. The WPA threatened to discontinue after-hours parking unless Bottlecaps remedied the problem. Thereafter and in response, when Bottlecaps hosted large outdoor events, it required the bar employees to pick up trash around the Lot before completing their shift.
On occasion, Bottlecaps also took special precautions to oversee the safety of its patrons. Crime increasingly had become a problem in the area. Bottlecaps' employees often had their cars broken into. On the Orange Street Lot, bar patrons frequently encountered aggressive panhandlers, and some patrons had been robbed. A Bottlecaps patron was robbed on the Lot the night before the shooting at issue in this case, and the management was aware of this crime. In response to the crime in the area, Bottlecaps hired off-duty police officers for security during special events when management expected large crowds. Bottlecaps did not take any additional precautions for ordinary nights when an average turn-out was expected, however.
Reviewing the evidence upon Bottlecaps' motion for summary judgment, the trial court concluded that the recited facts were insufficient to hold Bottlecaps civilly responsible for the wrongful death resulting from the December 18 robbery and murder on the Lot. The trial court reasoned that because Bottlecaps did not possess or control the Orange Street Lot, it did not owe a duty to warn or protect Rhudy and Krueck from crime on the Lot. The plaintiffs appeal from the judgment of the Superior Court.
Issues on Appeal
The plaintiffs raise two issues on appeal. They first argue that they have adduced sufficient evidence from which a fact-finder could rationally infer that Bottlecaps owed a duty to patrons whom the bar encouraged to use the Lot. The plaintiffs next contend that the trial court did not permit them to conduct discovery adequate to develop a complete record upon which a motion for summary judgment could be granted.
Bottlecaps Did Not Owe a Duty Either to Warn of, or Protect Rhudy and Krueck from, Crime on the Orange Street Lot
The plaintiffs contend that the trial court misapplied the law to the facts of
This Court reviews de novo the trial court's grant of summary judgment both as to facts and law to determine whether or not the undisputed facts, viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, entitle Bottlecaps to judgment as a matter of law.
The plaintiffs ask this Court to hold that a Bottlecaps patron who parked in the Orange Street Lot was entitled to the same protection or warning Bottlecaps owed to patrons on the bar premises. Because Bottlecaps did not own the Lot, the plaintiffs cannot rely on Bottlecaps' duty as a landowner to warn and protect its business invitees from foreseeable criminal acts that occur on its property.
Although the defendant's "control" of the adjacent area is not necessarily out-come-determinative, it is an important consideration. An assessment of control permits the court to assess Bottlecaps' responsibility
Bottlecaps could not be expected to take precautions that would prevent criminal incidents on the Orange Street Lot. The WPA owned and controlled the Lot. Bottlecaps could neither anticipate nor be expected to protect its patrons from the crime that occurred on the Lot to any greater extent than it could protect patrons who parked on any nearby public street.
Rhudy and Krueck urge this Court to look beyond Bottlecaps' inability to ensure any degree of safety for patrons who used the Lot and nevertheless impose liability because Bottlecaps received an economic benefit from the after-hours parking on the Lot. The plaintiffs rely on decisions from other jurisdictions that have described a landowner's duty to its invitees in terms of the economic benefit the landowner receives through its use of the adjacent property.
The plaintiffs allude to this type of liability-enhancing form of economic benefit only when they describe the large events Bottlecaps hosted when it expected more than one hundred people to attend. This profit-motivated venture arguably placed its patrons at greater risk of violence or crime that may be associated with a large crowd gathered in an area that does not typically accommodate so many people. Under similar circumstances, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a landowner's duty extends to adjoining areas when the surrounding property is used as an "overflow" for the bar's inadequate facilities.
The plaintiffs have not presented a reason to impose on Bottlecaps a special responsibility for the consequences of crime in the area. Were we to hold Bottlecaps liable solely because it benefitted from the public parking made available to its patrons, it would be impossible to allocate responsibility equitably. Bottlecaps was not the only beneficiary of the free public access to the Orange Street Lot. Rhudy and Krueck also benefitted from parking on the Lot. In addition, other downtown merchants received a benefit from the free parking provided to their patrons.
Bottlecaps' business activities did not increase the risk of crime on the Lot. Nor could it have been expected to prevent criminal occurrences there. This Court cannot impose on Bottlecaps a duty to protect the plaintiffs from an assailant while they were on another's property on which neither Bottlecaps' actions nor its inactions were responsible for the robbery and murder.
The Trial Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion by Denying the Plaintiffs' Request for Further Discovery
The plaintiffs also challenge the trial court's decision by asserting that the order granting summary judgment was premature. On appeal, the plaintiffs argue that had the trial court allowed additional discovery, the plaintiffs could have produced facts sufficient to infer that Bottlecaps controlled the Orange Street Lot.
Although the plaintiffs were entitled to discovery "to develop a factual record... to conclude whether genuine factual issues exist,"
During the three-month discovery period in this case, the plaintiffs deposed Bottlecaps' managing owner, a key Bottlecaps employee, and a representative of the WPA. They also obtained several affidavits and documents relating to the December 18 incident. When the trial court asked the plaintiffs to specify their reasons for seeking additional discovery, counsel replied, "Well, perhaps, actually the court would find additional discovery would be cumulative."
The judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed.