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Martinez v. Espey

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 8, 2018

LUÍS M. MARTÍNEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER LINDEN ESPEY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On May 10, 2014, plaintiff Luis M. Martinez was playing pool at Courtyard Oyster Bar in Alabaster, Alabama. Defendant Christopher Espey, another bar patron, openly and repeatedly threatened Mr. Martinez, commented on Mr. Martinez's race, and ultimately attacked Mr. Martinez with a pool stick. The attack left Mr. Martinez with serious facial injuries.

         Based on these events, Mr. Martinez asserts state law claims against Courtyard for premises liability and negligent hiring, training, and supervision of the bar's security guards.[1] Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Courtyard seeks judgment as a matter of law on all of Mr. Martinez's claims against the company. (Doc. 39). The Court conducted a hearing on Courtyard's motion on November 1, 2017.[2] Consistent with the discussion held on the record during the November 1, 2017 hearing and for the reasons stated below, the Court grants Courtyard's motion for summary judgment with respect to Mr. Martinez's negligent hiring, training, and supervision claim and denies Courtyard's motion with respect to Mr. Martinez's premises liability claim.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

         When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015). In this opinion, the Court describes the evidence accordingly.

         II. RELEVANT FACTS

         At approximately 9:00 p.m. on May 9, 2014, Mr. Martinez went to Courtyard Oyster Bar to play pool with his brother. (Doc. 38-1, pp. 10-11, 13). Two hours later, Mr. Martinez's brother left the bar. (Doc. 38-1, p. 11). Mr. Martinez stayed behind and played pool with another individual. (Doc. 38-1, p. 11). Near midnight, Mr. Espey arrived at the bar. (Doc. 38-1, p. 18). Mr. Espey began playing pool near Mr. Martinez. (Doc. 38-1, p. 15).

         Mr. Martinez and Mr. Espey were not strangers. Mr. Martinez had encountered Mr. Espey at Courtyard on two other occasions. (Doc. 38-1, p. 11). On both occasions, Mr. Espey made throat-slitting gestures toward Mr. Martinez. Mr. Martinez did not report the threatening conduct to anyone at Courtyard or to the police. (Doc. 38-1, pp. 14-15).

         As Mr. Martinez and Mr. Espey played pool at Courtyard in the early morning hours on May 10, 2014, Mr. Espey made throat-slitting and closed-fist gestures toward Mr. Martinez. (Doc. 38-1, pp. 14, 27, 67). Mr. Espey was 6 to 12 feet away from Mr. Martinez when he made the gestures. (Doc. 38-1, p. 29). Mr. Martinez and Mr. Espey did not speak directly with one another (Doc. 38-1, pp. 11-12), but Mr. Martinez overheard Mr. Espey say, “I hate Latinos” and “[f]****** Hispanics.” (Doc. 38-1, pp. 24, 66). Mr. Martinez testified that “many people heard” Mr. Espey say, “I hate Latinos.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 24). When Mr. Espey made the comment, Mr. Martinez, who was the only Latino at the bar, “turned around and looked at” Mr. Espey, and Mr. Espey “made those gestures that he was going to cut [Mr. Martinez's] throat.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 24). Every time Mr. Martinez would turn around, Mr. Espey would mock and make fun of him while making the “gesture like he was going to slit [Mr. Martinez's] throat.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 26).

         Two security officers were working at Courtyard while Mr. Martinez and Mr. Espey were playing pool. A security guard was sitting at the front door collecting cover charges. (Doc. 38-1, pp. 23, 62). An off-duty, plainclothes police officer was stationed inside the bar. (Doc. 38-1, p. 27). Mr. Martinez testified that the “security and police” at Courtyard “were watching” Mr. Espey and saw him make the threatening gestures. (Doc. 38-1, p. 27).

         After some period of time, Mr. Martinez got scared and decided to leave the bar and go home. (Doc. 38-1, p. 24). As Mr. Martinez started to leave, Mr. Espey attacked him from behind with a pool stick. (Doc. 38-1, pp. 14, 62). According to Mr. Martinez, “when I have my - turned my back to him I felt the first hit - the first blow that he busted my face, that he broke my bones, my jaw, my orbit, my eye, and I [be]came unconscious.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 17). When Mr. Martinez regained consciousness, he was sitting in a chair, and he could not breathe or talk. (Doc. 38-1, p. 17).

         According to Mr. Martinez, “everybody saw that the police and the security, the bar what [Mr.] Espey would do referring to me, ” and “[n]obody did anything about it.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 24). Mr. Martinez contends that the security officers “didn't do anything” to try to stop the attack “because they did not care about the situation.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 62). Mr. Martinez testified that Mr. Espey's gestures “were visible from everywhere.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 65). According to Mr. Martinez, “everybody saw what was going on and nobody did anything to avoid it. That's why what happened to me happened.” (Doc. 38-1, p. 65).[3]

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Negligent Hiring, Training, and Supervision

         Mr. Martinez maintains that Courtyard negligently hired, trained, and supervised the security officers who were on duty at Courtyard at the time of his attack and that Courtyard's negligence caused his injuries because the security officers saw Mr. Espey making threatening gestures but did not intervene to stop Mr. Espey from assaulting him. Under Alabama law, “[i]n the master and servant relationship, the master is held responsible for his servant's incompetency when notice or knowledge, either actual or presumed, of such unfitness has been brought to him.” Armstrong Business Servs., Inc. v. AmSouth Bank, 817 So.2d 665, 682 (Ala. 2001). “It is not sufficient merely to allege, or to show, that the employee acted incompetently.” Southland Bank v. A & A Drywall Supply Co., Inc., 21 So.3d 1196, 1216 (Ala. 2008). Instead, “[a] plaintiff must establish ‘by affirmative proof' that the employer actually knew of the incompetence, or that the employer reasonably should have known of it.” Southland Bank, 21 So.3d at 1216 (quoting Lane v. Central Bank, 425 So.2d 1098, 1100 (Ala. 1983)). A plaintiff satisfies this burden by showing “either that he ...


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