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Mu v. Omni Hotels Management Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 7, 2018

HENRY MU, Plaintiff, Appellant,
OMNI HOTELS MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, a/k/a Omni Hotels, Defendant, Appellee, JOHN DOES 1-20, Defendants. HENRY MU, Plaintiff, Appellant,
OMNI HOTELS MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, a/k/a Omni Hotels; JOHN DOES 1-20 Defendants, Appellees.


          Jesse W. Duarte, with whom Duarte & Obolensky Law, LLC was on brief, for appellant.

          Geoffrey W. Millsom, with whom Brenna Anatone Force and Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C. were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

         During the early hours of August 24, 2014, an unidentified group of individuals assaulted Appellant Henry Mu ("Mu") in the lobby of the Omni Providence Hotel (the "Hotel"), which Appellee Omni Hotels Management Corporation ("Omni") operates. Mu sued Omni for negligence. The district court granted summary judgment to Omni, finding Mu's claims deficient with respect to three elements of negligence: duty, breach, and causation. We, however, conclude otherwise, finding that Mu's negligence claim was sufficient to withstand summary judgment. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's order granting summary judgment to Omni.

         I. Background

         We view the facts in the summary judgment record in the light most favorable to Mu, and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Alt. Sys. Concepts, Inc. v. Synopsys, Inc., 374 F.3d 23, 26 (1st Cir. 2004).

         A. Factual Background

         During the relevant period of time, Mu lived in "The Residences, " a luxury condominium complex adjoined to the Hotel. As the owner of a condo at The Residences, Mu enjoyed access to a number of the Hotel's services and amenities, including its fitness center and valet parking service. As a result, Mu visited the Hotel on a near-daily basis.

         On August 24, 2014, at 2:10 a.m., the Hotel's front desk received a call complaining of a party on the fourth floor. According to the Hotel's records, the caller expressed his belief that "the kids are smoking pot in the next room." The caller further indicated that the room's occupants were "being very loud, " and that "there are more loud teenagers on the 25th floor." In response to this call, two Hotel security guards knocked on the door of room 407 of the Hotel, where they encountered approximately twenty individuals inside. The room's registered guest was not among these individuals, and the Hotel does not allow multiple unrelated people to occupy a room when a registered guest is not present. Therefore, the two security guards evicted the room's occupants from the Hotel, escorting them off the premises. The security guards then returned to the Hotel.

         During this time, the Hotel's valet, Danny Lebrón ("Lebrón") was working in front of the Hotel. He observed "approximately a dozen young people (mostly male) leave the front door of the hotel with hotel security behind them." Lebrón watched the group leave the Hotel's property, and walk down the street and out of his sight. But, according to Lebrón, the group, now having obtained a case of beer, soon returned to the Hotel's driveway, where they "were being rowdy." Lebrón watched a fight break out between members of the group, "with punches thrown and much shouting." After the fight had concluded, Mu came down from his condominium to the Hotel's driveway to wait for his girlfriend, who was coming to see Mu and intended to valet her car.

         Mu chatted with Lebrón while he waited for his girlfriend to arrive. As he stood in front of the Hotel, Mu observed a "bunch of kids" coming in and out of the front door to the Hotel's lobby. He then observed this group -- which he estimated to have roughly twenty members -- "trying to get into an altercation with [another] kid." These efforts included the group using racial epithets against that individual, whom Mu described as African-American. The target of the group's harassment ultimately walked away from the group and out of Mu and Lebrón's sight, but the group pursued him. Mu then told Lebrón to go get help, but Lebrón responded "[T]hat's not my problem." Next, Mu heard what "sounded like some type of fight . . . or an altercation going on." Afterwards, the group of kids "all c[ame] . . . storming out . . . celebrating . . . like they just beat up some kid." Lebrón then left Mu to park a car, and Mu, fearing for his own safety, made towards the Hotel's lobby.

         Mu entered the lobby, and the group of kids stormed in behind him. Mu informed the concierge that the group was fighting outside, and told her that she needed to eject them from Hotel's property and call the police. The group then confronted Mu and began to punch, shove, and kick him. Mu estimates that between five and seven members of the group participated in attacking him. Ultimately, two members of the group held him down, and a third threw a table at him. The group then fled. Mu remembers one of Hotel's employees -- either a security guard or a doorman -- urging him to go home. Though Mu wanted to stay at the Hotel to speak to the police, whom he believed to be en route, he ultimately acquiesced and went home. A doctor later diagnosed Mu with a broken arm.

         Mu returned to the Hotel the day after his assault.[1]The Hotel's head of security, Shannon Earle ("Earle"), informed Mu that while the police had come to the Hotel following his assault, Mu would have to contact the police himself to make a report. Mu also inquired about the security cameras in the Hotel's lobby, where the assault occurred. Earle responded that because of ongoing construction, the cameras had not been working. Indeed, the security shift report from that date indicates that six of the Hotel's security cameras were non-functional. The record, however, does contain some indicia to the contrary. One of the on-duty security guards at the time of Mu's assault prepared an incident report on August 24, 2014, which Earle reviewed on August 29, 2014. That report explains that "[c]amera footage from DVR 1 from the times stated were [sic] inconclusive as to what exactly had occurred and was also not able to properly identify any individuals involved."

         B. Procedural History

         Mu filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court on April 14, 2015, alleging negligence against Omni and battery against his unknown assailants. On May 7, 2015, Omni filed a notice of removal to federal court in the District of Rhode Island, based on the parties' diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Mu did not challenge removal. Both parties consented to jurisdiction by a United States magistrate judge, and Omni then moved for summary judgment.

         After a hearing -- during which Mu indicated that he did not intend to pursue his battery claim -- the magistrate judge sitting as the district court granted Omni's motion for summary judgment. The district court first held that because his attack was not foreseeable, Omni had no legal duty to prevent the harm that Mu suffered. According to the court, Mu also failed to provide sufficient evidence establishing the applicable standard of care and Omni's breach of that standard. So too, the district court added, did Mu fail to "demonstrate that his injury was the 'natural and probable' consequence of any specific act of alleged negligence."

         The district court also dismissed Mu's argument that the incident report referring to "[c]amera footage from DVR 1, " combined with Omni's contention that no footage of Mu's assault existed, suggested that Omni had despoiled that evidence. Rather, it explained that "[w]hile the record is confusing, Plaintiff's evidence permits the inference that whatever cameras the ...

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