2020 WL 1080521 (Mash. Pequot Tribal Ct.)
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Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court.
MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT GAMING ENTERPRISE
MARCH 4, 2020
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Thomas J. Londregan, Judge
I. BACKGROUNDThe plaintiff, John Carsetti, filed this one-count complaint against the defendant, Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise (hereinafter “the Gaming Enterprise”), on September 14, 2018, alleging that he sustained injuries as a result of the defendant’s negligence. On September 22, 2017, he was in attendance at a concert at the Fox Theater. The plaintiff asserts that at the end of the concert a stage hand was dropping Sammy Hagar & the Circle commemorative guitar picks at the edge of the stage for fans to pick up. As the plaintiff was slapping his hand over one of the picks he was allegedly grabbed around the neck and pulled back from the stage by a security officer employed by the defendant. At a two-day trial that occurred on January 22, 2020 and February 5, 2020, the Court heard testimony from the plaintiff and Security Events Manager for the defendant, William Soriano. At the conclusion of the trial, the parties elected to make their closing arguments orally.
II. DISCUSSIONThe essential elements of a cause of action in negligence are well established. In order for the plaintiff to prevail, they must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff; (2) that the defendant breached said duty; (3) that the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered actual damages. Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation v. Castellucci & Assoc., Inc., 4 Mash.Rep. 21, 33, 5 Mash. 227 (2002); Hazard v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 6 Mash.Rep. 354, 357-58 (2016).
In this case, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant breached the duty that it owed to him as an invitee of its premises by allowing its security officers to use force which was excessive and unreasonable. He asserts that the security officers failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry before resorting to force, that the security officers were improperly trained and supervised, and that the defendant failed to establish proper policies and procedures for its security officers. The defendant asserts that any of the injuries sustained by the plaintiff were caused by his own carelessness and negligence in that he caused and/or escalated a confrontation with a patron, which required involvement of its security officers.
A. CredibilityThere are competing accounts of the incident. According to the plaintiff, after Sammy Hagar & the Circle finished their set a stage hand was dropping commemorative guitar picks at the edge of the stage for fans to grab. The plaintiff testified that there was a college-aged man to his right jostling with him to get a pick. The plaintiff alleges that he and the college-aged man were both slapping at the same pick when he suddenly felt someone wrap their arm around his neck, lift him up into the air, and drop him to the ground. The plaintiff claims that his neck and shoulders were immediately in pain. He claims that the individual who picked him up and dropped him was a security officer employed by the defendant.
Statements and testimony from security personnel differ from the plaintiff’s testimony on a number of crucial points. At trial the Court finds that William Soriano, Events Security Manager for the defendant, testified credibly about what he personally observed. He testified that he was working in the Fox Theater the night of the alleged incident. He was standing near the edge of stage right to prevent any stage breach while fans asked for memorabilia. Mr. Soriano noticed a stage hand throw a pick underhand directly to a young boy and his father. He testified that he was approximately 20 feet away from the incident. As the boy placed his hand over the pick Mr. Soriano witnessed the plaintiff begin to jostle the boy and slap at his hand in what appeared to be an attempt to obtain the pick himself. Mr. Soriano saw Security Officer Valladares and Security Supervisor Moore approach the plaintiff. Mr. Valladares separated the plaintiff from the child by putting his body between the two of them. He extended his arms perpendicular to the ground and held them outstretched so as to create more distance between the plaintiff and himself. As Mr. Moore and Valladares ushered the plaintiff away from the stage he became angry and started to yell at them.
“In bench trials, the judge serves as the sole fact-finder and, thus, assumes the role of the jury. In this capacity, the judge’s function includes weighing the evidence, evaluating the credibility of witnesses, and deciding questions of fact, as well as issues of law.” Citron v. Wachovia Mortgage Corp., 922 F.Supp.2d 1309, 1314 (M.D. Fla. 2013). “Where the cause is tried to the court, the resolution of conflicting evidence is solely within the province of the court. Its findings must be given great weight in light of the fact that it had the opportunity to hear and observe the witnesses.” Ahern v. Veterans Administration, 537 F.2d 1098, 1101 (1976). “It is ... exclusively within the province of the trier of fact to draw reasonable inferences from the facts and to resolve conflicts in the evidence.” Steiner Corp. v. Johnson & Higgins of California, 118 F.Supp.2d 1174, 1184 (D. Utah 2000).
During the trial, the Court had ample opportunity to observe the conduct, demeanor and attitude of the plaintiff as a witness, to evaluate his testimony, and to relate his testimony to the exhibits admitted into evidence. When weighing the evidence, the Court considered the ability of those testifying, whether in person or in admitted documents, to perceive the things about which they testified, their ability to recall relevant facts and events, any interest that they may have had in the outcome, the reasonableness of their testimony, and any contradictions that arose between their testimony and other evidence introduced at trial.
Mr. Soriano’s testimony at trial is consistent with a written statement that he made on September 26, 2017. Mr. Moore made a written statement on September 23, 2017. Mr. Valladares made a written statement on the night of the incident. All of these statements corroborate each other. The only conflicting account comes from the plaintiff. “The strength of evidence does not necessarily depend upon the number of witnesses who testify; but the number is a legitimate consideration among other things, such as whether the single witness in opposition is an interested party.” Woodard v. Fanboy, L.L.C., 298 F.3d 1261, 1266 n.7 (11th Cir. 2002).
At trial, the plaintiff was cross-examined as to his responses to the defendant’s interrogatories. The plaintiff had been asked to disclose all incidents from the ten years leading up to September 22, 2017 in which he had sustained similar injuries. The plaintiff testified that he had failed to disclose an automobile accident. He had sued a Mr. and Mrs. Asad in 2016 for injuries. As a result of that automobile accident, the plaintiff injured his neck and right shoulder. The plaintiff’s credibility regarding prior injuries similar to the injuries he is now claiming supports the Court’s overall finding that the plaintiff did not testify credibly as to the interaction he had with security officers at the edge of the stage. The Court’s findings of fact are based upon all of the foregoing factors.
B. FindingsAs is often the case, the surveillance footage of the area does not clearly show what occurred. However, it does show the plaintiff walking up the stairs and standing for an extended period of time while he speaks with an employee. Notably, the plaintiff does not appear to show any external signs of the terrible pain he testified that he was in. The Court must turn to the testimony and statements of witnesses to determine what happened between security officers and the plaintiff at the edge of the stage. The testimony of Mr. Soriano and the statements of Mr. Moore and Mr. Valladares are all consistent with each other. Meanwhile, only the plaintiff gives a differing account. Furthermore, Mr. Soriano made a written statement four days after the event in question, which is consistent with his testimony at trial.
The Court determines that great weight should be given to the testimony of Mr. Soriano. He was merely an observer to the incident and did not actively take part in the incident. Mr. Moore and Mr. Valladares made written statements which corroborate the testimony of Mr. Soriano. The Court finds that these facts, taken as a whole, illustrate that the plaintiff was not put in a headlock from behind and picked up and dropped by a security officer. Rather, the Court finds that the plaintiff was pushing into the body of, and slapping at the hand of, a fellow patron, a young boy, to get a commemorative pick from Sammy Hagar & the Circle when security personnel intervened to protect the boy from the plaintiff. The Court finds that, with the assistance of Mr. Moore, Mr. Valladares separated the plaintiff from the boy by putting himself between the two and extending his arms so as to distance the plaintiff from himself and the boy. The Court further finds that the plaintiff was never pushed or dropped to the floor by security personnel during this incident. The Court finds that any injuries to the plaintiff’s shoulders and neck were not the result of the events that occurred at the edge of the stage.
The Court finds from the testimony of Mr. Soriano that the security officers used reasonable and necessary force to intervene between the young boy and the plaintiff. The actions of the security officers were not excessive or unreasonable. The plaintiff did not put forth any evidence that the security officers were improperly trained and supervised or that the defendant failed to establish proper policies and procedure for its security officers.
The plaintiff has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was injured in any way by the actions of the defendant’s security officers. Judgment shall enter in favor of the defendant Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise.