Coleyv.Keystone Turf Club, Inc.

J-A27036-18 (Pa. Super. Ct. Mar. 5, 2019)

J-A27036-18 No. 3837 EDA 2016




Appeal from the Judgment Entered November 21, 2016
In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): 141201773 BEFORE: BOWES, J., STABILE, J., and McLAUGHLIN, J. MEMORANDUM BY McLAUGHLIN, J.:

Greenwood Racing, Inc. appeals from the judgment entered in favor of James Coley following a jury trial. Greenwood Racing argues the trial court erred in denying its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV") as to the award of punitive damages, the finding that Greenwood Racing owed a duty to, or breached any duty owed to, Coley, and the finding that any breach by Greenwood Racing caused harm to Coley. We affirm.

This case arises from an incident that occurred on July 31, 2014, at the Center City Turf Club ("Turf Club"). Turf Club patrons John Gleason, Sr. and John Gleason, Jr. verbally and physically assaulted Coley, also a patron.

Coley sued multiple corporate defendants for negligently failing to have proper or adequate security at the Turf Club, failing to come to his aid, failing to remove the Gleasons following an altercation they had with another patron, failing to monitor the Gleasons' activities in the Turf Club, and continuing to serve the Gleasons alcohol after they had become visibly intoxicated. The corporate defendants joined the Gleasons as additional defendants.

The case proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of Coley's case, the trial court dismissed the case as to the Gleasons. Further, the corporate defendants filed a Motion for Nonsuit, which the trial court granted as to all entities except Keystone Turf Club, Inc. ("Keystone"), and Greenwood Racing.

The motion for entry of voluntary nonsuit stated the Gleasons never responded to the joinder complaint; if called as witnesses, they likely would assert their privilege against self-incrimination; and they have not, and are not likely to, appear for trial.

The trial court set forth a summary of the testimony and evidence admitted at trial in its Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(a) opinion, which we adopt for purposes of this appeal. See Trial Court Opinion, filed June 29, 2018, at 6-20 ("1925(a) Op."). The following facts are some of the facts relevant to this appeal.

The deposition of Thomas Bonner, Greenwood Racing's corporate designee, was read into the record. Bonner testified that Keystone "ran, managed, and controlled the Center City Turf Club and, at the time of the July 2014 incident, Greenwood Racing[] was the sole shareholder of" Keystone. N.T., 8/5/16 (PM), at 64-65.

Further, the Turf Club's General Manager Thomas Burke testified in a deposition, which was read to the jury, that Greenwood Racing was responsible for making security decisions at the Turf Club. Specifically, he stated his "superiors . . . Joe Wilson and Lance Merrell" made decisions "regarding security" at the Turf Club. N.T., 8/8/16 (AM), at 11-12. Joe Wilson was the chief operating officer ("COO") of Greenwood Racing. N.T, 8/5/16 (PM) at 63-64. Burke further testified that "Joe Wilson [was his] only real superior that [he] answer[ed] to with regards" to the Turf Club. Id. at 55-56. Burke further testified the Turf Club had closed and that Wilson and another Greenwood Racing employee, Anthony Ricci, made the decision to close the Turf Club. Id. at 48-49. The jury further heard testimony that there were no security guards at the Turf Club on July 31, 2014, and that there had not been security guards for two years prior to that date. N.T., 8/2/16, at 232.

Lance Merrell was not identified.

In addition, the jury heard testimony from Rus Kolins, an expert "in security issues with facilities such as the Turf Club." N.T., 8/4/16 (PM), at 11-12. Mr. Kolins testified regarding the cause of harm to Coley:

The causation was the failure to enforce the policies of the Turf Club, to enforce the policies that they knew had to be in place for a reason, stop the threat, take these situations seriously, get rid of the people who were causing a problem here. They didn't do that. It was reckless. It was careless. It was negligent. And the bottom line was it le[]d to, seriously contributed to the event that caused the injuries to Mr. Coley."

N.T., 8/4/16 (PM), at 43-44.

At the time of the incident, there were 15 to 20 patrons at the Turf Club and four to five employees. N.T., 8/2/16, at 48, 140-42; N.T., 8/5/16 (AM), at 42. Mr. Kolins agreed that there was no law or ordinance that required the Turf Club to have security guards, and that the best practice guidelines state there should be a minimum of one security guard on a premises when there are 75 or more people present. N.T., 8/5/16 (AM), at 19-23.

However, Mr. Kolins also testified that the Turf Club was on notice that fights could happen on its premises because of prior incidents at the Turf Club, including at least three robberies, id. at 32, and fights in the establishment:

Mr. Anglin testified about other fights, altercations in the club, and how the big manager ejected patrons who engaged in those fights in the club, which was the right thing to do, but there still were fights in the club. So that puts the Turf Club on notice that fights can happen. It's the type of place where fights—there's a heightened level and a heightened risk that fights can occur.

N.T., 8/4/16 (PM), at 33-34. He further testified about the emotions involved when people gamble and explained that the combination of alcohol and gambling creates a "heightened risk and a need for security." Id. at 35-36.

Mr. Kolins testified as to the deterrent effects of having uniformed security guards:

Uniformed guards show[] a presence of authority. It's a deterrent to crime. Crime is committed by people who have an opportunity to commit the crime. When they have the opportunity and they have the ability to escape freely, they know that, hey, I can do something here and get away with it.

. . .

The benefit of uniformed guards is exactly what I am talking about here, having adequate security on premises. That encompasses having uniformed guard[s] and recognizable uniforms that are unique, that are telling patrons and people like the Gleasons, we have guards here, we're taking our security seriously, if you want to get involved in some shenanigans, we're going to address that issue with you. And if you behave badly, we're going to ask you to leave. So uniformed guards are a deterrent to crime, potential crime on the property.

at 28-29, 30.

At the close of plaintiff's evidence, Keystone and Greenwood Racing made a joint motion for a directed verdict, which the trial court denied. The trial court then submitted the case to the jury. The jury found in favor of Coley and against Keystone and Greenwood Racing on Coley's negligence claim and awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages. It apportioned liability, finding each defendant 50% liable. The jury also awarded Coley $200,000 in punitive damages against Greenwood Racing, but did not award punitive damages against Keystone. Keystone did not file post-trial motions or an appeal, and has satisfied its portion of the judgment.

The jury found in favor of Keystone on the dram shop cause of action.

Greenwood Racing filed a post-trial motion for JNOV, arguing the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to establish: Greenwood Racing breached a duty owed to Coley; Greenwood Racing's conduct was a cause of Coley's harm; or Greenwood Racing was liable for punitive damages. The trial court denied the motion.

The trial court initially found the claims waived because Greenwood Racing failed to mention or identify any specific grounds in its post-verdict motion and because it believed Greenwood Racing's incorporation by reference of extraneous matters was improper. This Court disagreed, and required that the trial court issue an opinion addressing the merits, which the trial court subsequently filed. --------

Greenwood Racing filed a timely notice of appeal, and raises the following issues:

1. Did the Trial Court err in denying Greenwood Racing, Inc.'s motion for JNOV where the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, was insufficient as a matter of law to submit the issue of punitive damages to the jury?

2. Did the trial court err in denying Greenwood Racing, Inc.'s motion for JNOV where the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, was insufficient as a matter of law to make out a claim that Greenwood Racing, Inc. owed or breached any duty owed to Plaintiff?

3. Did the Trial Court err in denying Greenwood Racing, Inc.'s motion for JNOV where the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, was insufficient as a matter of law for the jury to find that any alleged breach on the part of Greenwood Racing, Inc. was a legal cause of the harm to Plaintiff?

Greenwood Racing's Br. at 4 (suggested answers omitted).

Greenwood Racing's three issues challenge the denial of its motion for JNOV. We will reverse an order denying a motion for JNOV only if the "trial court abused its discretion or committed an error of law that controlled the outcome of the case." Sears , Roebuck & Co. v. 69th Street Retail Mall , L.P., 126 A.3d 959, 967 (Pa.Super. 2015) (quoting Thomas Jefferson Univ. v. Wapner , 903 A.2d 565, 569 (Pa.Super. 2006)). "Abuse of discretion occurs if the trial court renders a judgment that is manifestly unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious; that fails to apply the law; or that is motivated by partiality, prejudice, bias or [ill will]." Id. (quoting Thomas Jefferson Univ., 903 A.3d at 569) (brackets in original). We "must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict[-]winner and give him or her the benefit of every reasonable inference arising therefrom while rejecting all unfavorable testimony and inferences." Id. (quoting Thomas Jefferson Univ., 903 A.3d at 569). "[T]he grant of [JNOV] should only be entered in a clear case and any doubts must be resolved in favor of the verdict[-]winner." Id. (quoting Thomas Jefferson Univ., 903 A.3d at 569) (some brackets in original).

Greenwood Racing first argues the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that it acted outrageously or with reckless indifference, and, therefore, insufficient to support an award of punitive damages. It argues almost all evidence related to the Turf Club, not Greenwood Racing, and is therefore irrelevant to whether punitive damages should be awarded against Greenwood Racing. It claims the only evidence related to Greenwood Racing was that the general manager of the Turf Club testified that Greenwood Racing's COO made decisions about security at the Turf Club. Greenwood claims there are no laws or ordinances that require security guards and that the best practices state that there should be a licensed and trained security guard when 75 or more patrons are present. It claims there was no evidence that Greenwood Racing knew of a need for security guards and therefore Coley failed to establish the required state of mind to support an award of punitive damages.

The trial court set forth the relevant law on punitive damages and concluded Coley presented sufficient evidence that Greenwood Racing acted with reckless indifference to the interests of others such that the question of whether to award punitive damages properly was submitted to the jury and the jury award was supported by the evidence. 1925(a) Op. at 25. It noted that Coley presented evidence that Greenwood Racing, the sole shareholder of the Turf Club, made the security decisions for the Turf Club and, therefore, "[t]he jury could, and did, properly determine that [Greenwood Racing's] failure to ensure the enforcement of the Turf Club's well-established policies and the failure to have security guards on duty, exhibited reckless indifference to the interests of others and warranted the imposition of punitive damages." Id. at 26. After reviewing the trial court's opinion, the record, the parties' briefs, and relevant law, we see no abuse of discretion or error of law in denying Greenwood Racing's motion for JNOV for punitive damages. Accordingly, we affirm on the basis of the well-reasoned opinion of the Honorable Marlene F. Lachman, which we adopt and incorporate herein. Id. at 23-26.

In its last two issues, Greenwood Racing claims that it did not owe a duty to, or breach any duty owed to, Coley and that any breach of duty did not cause harm to Coley.

"[T]o state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must allege facts which establish the breach of a legally recognized duty or obligation of the defendant that is causally connected to actual damages suffered by the plaintiff." Scampone v. Highland Park Care Ctr., LLC , 57 A.3d 582, 596 (Pa. 2012). To establish the duty and breach elements of negligence the plaintiff must establish "the defendant's act or omission fell below the standard of care and, therefore, increased the risk of harm to the plaintiff." Id. To establish a "causal connection between the breach of a duty of care and the harm alleged," the plaintiff must show "that the increased risk was a substantial factor in bringing about the resultant harm." Id. at 598. "[T]he necessary proximate cause will have been made out if the jury sees fit to find cause in fact." Id. (quoting Hamil v. Bashline , 392 A.2d 1280, 1288 (Pa. 1978)) (brackets in original).

Greenwood Racing argues the evidence was insufficient to support a claim that Greenwood Racing owed a duty to, or breached any duty owed to, Coley. It claims that the conduct of the Turf Club employees on the night of the incident was irrelevant when assessing the liability of Greenwood Racing. It argues the evidence as to notice related to the fact that the Turf Club employees did not act as they should have on the night in question, and that there was no evidence that Greenwood Racing had notice that security guards were needed. It claims there was no evidence as to the information the Turf Club provided to Greenwood Racing that would have alerted Greenwood Racing to security problems. As to the prior robberies and other fights and altercations, Greenwood claims there "is simply no evidence of Greenwood Racing's knowledge of these incidents." Greenwood Racing's Br. at 37. It claims that any finding of liability against Greenwood Racing was improperly based on the corporate structure, as Greenwood Racing was Keystone's parent.

The trial court noted the testimony from Burke, regarding his supervisors from Greenwood Racing, and Bonner, regarding the relationship between Greenwood Racing and the Turf Club. The trial court found "[t]he jury could properly find that Greenwood was liable for inadequate security based on the fact that its COO was responsible for making decisions regarding security at the Turf Club." 1925(a) Op. at 20. We agree. Further, contrary to Greenwood Racing's arguments, the verdict was not based on its status as a parent corporation. Rather, it was based on evidence that Greenwood Racing was the entity in charge of security and that the lack of security fell below the standard of care and increased the risk of harm to Coley. The trial court did not err in denying the motion for JNOV as to duty and breach of that duty.

Greenwood next argues that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that any breach by Greenwood Racing caused harm to Coley. It argues there was no evidence that the presence of security guards would have prevented the incident. It argues that the incident occurred in a short span of time and escalated quickly and that there were approximately 20 patrons and four to five employees present. It claims that "[p]rior to the beginning of the physical altercation, and during the verbal altercation, [Coley] had ample opportunity to exit the Turf Club," and, prior to the beginning of the physical altercation, could have walked away. Greenwood Racing's Br. at 45. Further, it argues that Coley's security expert relied on testimony as to the Turf Club, not as to Greenwood Racing, to find causation. It argues that there was "no way to find that an alleged failure to have a security guard employed . . . was a factual cause of the altercation and [Coley's] injury." Id. at 48. It further argues that Greenwood Racing's decision to no longer employ security guards was "simply 'too remote' to impose liability on Greenwood Racing." Id.

We first address Greenwood Racing's claims regarding Coley's ability to walk away, and the shortness of the interaction. The trial court concluded that there was evidence that Coley could not have just walked away, as the machine had his money, and that "Greenwood [Racing's] focus on the shortness of the father's vicious attack on [Coley], ignores the son's confrontational events leading up to the father's physical attack." 1925(a) Op. at 21. The court noted other evidence showed that the Turf Club staff could have prevented the escalation by enforcing the policies and failed to do so. Id. The trial court thus found that the credibility of the witnesses was for the jury, as was the determination of whether the Turf Club employees could have intervened. Id. at 22. After reviewing the trial court's opinion, the record, the parties' briefs, and relevant law, we see no abuse of discretion or error of law. Accordingly, we affirm on the basis of the well-reasoned opinion of the trial court, which we adopt and incorporate herein. Id. at 20-23.

We next address Greenwood Racing's claim that there was no evidence that the presence of a security guard would have prevented the incident and that any decision regarding security guards was too remote. We conclude that this argument lacks merit. Mr. Kolins testified that the presence of security guards could have prevented the attack, and that Greenwood Racing was on notice for the need for security guards based on prior incidents and the nature of the establishment. The jury was entitled to credit this testimony. Accordingly, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion or err as a matter of law in denying Greenwood's motion for JNOV as to causation.

Judgment affirmed. Judgment Entered. /s/_________
Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.
Prothonotary Date: 3/5/19

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