Cinemark Holdings Inc. (CNK) shouldn’t face civil claims for wrongful death over the July shooting rampage at its theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 people dead, a federal magistrate judge said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty in Denver said yesterday in a recommendation to a district court judge that while Cinemark may be found liable as a landowner under state law, the claims filed on behalf of victims for negligence and wrongful death should be dismissed.
U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, who is overseeing the case, consolidated seven suits against Cinemark set for trial in 2014 over allegations that it failed to take security precautions before the July 20 shootings.
This month, the arraignment of alleged gunman James Holmes, accused of first-degree murder, was delayed until March 12 because defense lawyers told Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester that they need more time to determine an appropriate plea.
Sylvester ruled Jan. 10 that the government established probable cause that Holmes committed the crimes he’s accused of and must face trial. Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder. He may face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.
The victims’ civil case is based on claims that Cinemark is liable because it had information about previous disturbances at the theater, including shootings, robberies and assaults.
Hegarty wrote yesterday that Cinemark’s attempts to dismiss all claims under the Colorado Premises Liability Act is “improper” before the two sides have exchanged information.
The extent of Cinemark’s knowledge in this case “has yet to be explored,” Hegarty wrote yesterday. “Discovery may reveal that other more serious crimes had occurred at or near the theater and that the defendant had knowledge of such crimes.”
Hegarty dismissed the negligence and wrongful death claims because the plaintiffs failed to argue the injuries and deaths were caused by a “condition of the property or by activities conducted” on it, according to the filing.
Christina M. Habas, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, didn’t return a call after regular business hours yesterday seeking comment on the filing.
James Meredith, a spokesman for Plano, Texas-based Cinemark, didn’t immediately return a call after regular business hours seeking comment.
The federal cases being consolidated include Nowlan v. Cinemark USA Inc., 12-cv-02517, and Traynom v. Cinemark USA Inc. 12-cv-02514, U.S. District Court, District of Colorado (Denver). The criminal case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).
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