Malatesta Obtains Case Dismissal

On Jan. 15, 2020, Jacob Malatesta obtained a dismissal for a client in Coahoma County, Mississippi. The case involved a physical assault that took place on the premises of a client’s entertainment establishment. The plaintiff alleged that he was assaulted by unknown patrons who then fled the establishment. The lawsuit was filed weeks before the Mississippi Landowner Protection Act went into effect on July 1, 2019.

Prior to Mississippi’s Landowner Protection Act, patrons were allowed to bring suit against a landowner for the criminal acts of a third party. In other words, plaintiffs were allowed to sue an owner of an entertainment venue for the reckless and criminal acts of assailants unaffiliated with the venue, and Mississippi law almost always precluded summary judgment, regardless of the facts. This means that landowners, when faced with such a lawsuit, had the option to either pay large amounts in attorney’s fees to defend a case through a jury trial – risking a large verdict that may not be overturned on appeal – or to settle for the cost of the defense, regardless of the dubious nature of the claim. The Landowner Protection Act severely limited plaintiffs’ ability to bring suit against a landowner for the acts of an unknown criminal.

The subject suit appeared to have been filed in an effort to avoid the new limitations set forth in the Landowner Protection Act just before it went into effect on July 1. Upon receiving the complaint, Malatesta noticed that it was actually an amended complaint to which new defendant had been added prior to service. Under Mississippi law, amending a complaint to add a defendant without a court order meant that it could be considered invalid. Under normal circumstances, this would not be dispositive of the issues – the plaintiff would be allowed to simply dismiss the original suit and refile. However, refiling the case after July 1 would make it subject to the Landowner Protection Act – effectively precluding recovery. The plaintiff vehemently fought the dismissal due to the invalid complaint, but has not filed an appeal or indicated they will refile the suit.