Appellate Court of Maryland Affirms Summary Judgment Denying Negligence Claim Stemming from Gun Violence in the Workplace
On September 20, 2018, Snochia Moseley opened fire on several employees at a Rite Aid Distribution Center in Aberdeen, Maryland, killing three and wounding three more. Prior to her deadly attack, Moseley was employed by Abacus Corporation and assigned to temporarily work in Rite Aid’s warehouse facility. The injured employees, known as “The Mitchells,” were employed by Capstone Logistics who contracted with Rite Aid to unload trucks at the facility.
The Mitchells filed suit against both Abacus Corporation and Rite Aid, alleging that they suffered damages proximately caused by the companies’ negligent failure to provide adequate security at the facility and negligent hiring and supervision of Moseley. Rite Aid argued that the Mitchells’ tort claims were barred because they were temporary employees under Rite Aid’s control and thus, Rite Aid was entitled to workers’ compensation immunity under Section 9-509 of the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act. Baltimore County Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of Abacus and Rite Aid, finding that the Mitchells failed to present evidence that would establish Abacus was negligent in hiring Moseley or that Rite Aid should have foreseen the shooting such that adequate security would have been provided. Additionally, the circuit court found that the Mitchells were temporary employees of Rite Aid, meaning Rite Aid was immunized from their tort claims.
The Mitchells appealed to the Appellate Court of Maryland, which has since issued an opinion affirming the circuit court’s judgment in part, and reversing the issue of Rite Aid’s immunity. Earlier this month, the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s granting of Rite Aid’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Rite Aid was not liable for the mass shooting. The court reasoned that the Mitchells did not show that the mass shooting could have been foreseen or that inadequate security was provided. There was no evidence offered that would indicate Moseley posed a threat of violence or that any events preceding the shooting would give rise to such a violent attack.
However, the appellate court found that the circuit court erred in finding that the Mitchells were temporary employees of Rite Aid. In determining who the Mitchells were employed by, the court considered which company had the power to select and hire the employee, the payment of wages, the power to discharge, the power to control the employee’s conduct, and whether the work was part of the regular business of the employer. Control of the employees was the most persuasive factor, and because the drug store chain did not directly supervise the Mitchells and the contracting company Capstone was solely responsible for its own employees, the Mitchells were not employees of Rite Aid. Although the Mitchells will not be receiving settlements from Rite Aid, they will receive workers’ compensation benefits through their employer Capstone.
This opinion serves two purposes, one for employers and one for employees. The court made clear that this opinion was not to suggest that mass shootings are unforeseeable as a matter of law such that employers may escape liability. However, it sheds light on the standard of care surrounding a business owner’s duty to protect invitees from gun violence. As for employees, this case will resolve any confusion amongst employment, particularly when companies are subcontracting with each other or third-parties are intertwined.
Faith Zellman, Law Clerk