Judge’s choice: State, federal venue in Vegas shooting cases

September 21, 2018
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FILE - This Oct. 2017 photo released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Force Investigation Team Report, shows the view of Las Vegas Village from Mandalay Bay's room 32-135, part of the evidence images included on a preliminary report showing the interior of Stephen Paddock's 32nd floor room of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. An unprecedented legal move by MGM Resorts International to sue surviving victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting took another unusual turn Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, when the casino-operator offered to make $500 charitable donations in the name of each person who waives or has their lawyer accept legal notice of the lawsuits. MGM has cited a 2002 federal law that limits liability when a company or group uses services certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via AP, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A U.S. judge said Friday he wants more documents and testimony about jurisdiction questions before deciding if negligence lawsuits stemming from the Las Vegas Strip massacre should be heard in state or federal court.

Judge Richard Boulware in Las Vegas said he wants to decide the issue within 60 days. He also acknowledged the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is due next week to consider similar venue questions involving the lawsuits filed by nearly 2,000 plaintiffs in several states against casino giant MGM Resorts International.

Fifty-eight people died and more than 850 were injured in the Oct. 1, 2017, attack, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The judge observed that before any court hears civil damages claims about the shooting the venue question will likely have to be determined by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The decision is crucial for MGM Resorts and subsidiaries.

They are seeking to move litigation from state to federal courts so they can argue they are shielded from death and injury liability claims by a federal law enacted following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It’s called the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act, or SAFETY Act.

The strategy led the company in July to sue more than 1,900 victims’ families and to take the unusual step this month of offering to donate money to charity in plaintiffs’ names if they would accept documents in the case..

One of MGM Resorts’ several Las Vegas Strip resorts is the Mandalay Bay, where a casino high-roller amassed an arsenal of assault-style rifles and opened fire from windows of his 32nd-floor suite into an outdoor concert grounds also owned by MGM Resorts. The gunman killed himself before police arrived.

The company argues that its venue security contractor, Consolidated Securities Corp., obtained federal Homeland Security Department certification under the SAFETY Act and had appropriate insurance coverage for the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Consolidated Securities is not a defendant in the case before Boulware.

Boulware said he wanted proof the company received federal certification and had insurance. He added that he was willing to subpoena records showing the scope of the company’s contract with MGM Resorts and Mandalay Bay.

Congress intended with the SAFETY Act for federal courts to consolidate and handle complex cases arising from terror attacks, attorney Michael Doyen, representing the casino company, told Boulware.

But attorney Robert Eglet, who told the judge he represents nearly all the families and victims suing MGM Resorts, argued that Congress passed the law to encourage companies to develop anti-terrorism technology. “It was not created to shield a hotel from negligence,” he said.

Even if the case ends up in federal court, Eglet said he’ll argue that MGM Resorts can’t invoke federal protection because there has been no finding by the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security that the Las Vegas shooting was an act of terror.

Police and the FBI have not determined a motive for the attack. But they said they believe gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone and had no link to a broad conspiracy or international terrorism.

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