Friday, January 20, 2017


I have always been reluctant to believe that our court system is corrupt and in the hands of special interests and businesses. But the facts are the facts and the Virginia Supreme Court’s decisions time and time again demonstrate just how much it is in the pocket power interest groups—to the detriment of the average citizen. Don’t take my word for it, look at the following decisions.

Michael Dudas vs. Glenwood Golf Club, Inc.

On November 1, 1997, Michael Dudas, a business invitee, was playing golf at the 18-hole, public golf course operated by Glenwood Golf Club, Inc. Court documents state that while playing near the 13th hole, Dudas and a companion were confronted by two men, trespassers, and robbed at gunpoint. One of the assailants shot Dudas in the leg.

Dudas filed for legal compensation saying that in the month preceding this robbery there had been “at least two robberies of business invitees, one with gunfire, (at) the Glenwood Golf Club at the 7th and 13th holes.” The assailants, the court papers continue, had not been apprehended. The motion for judgment filed on Dudas’ behalf contained three counts of negligence against Glenwood Golf Club.

The lower courts in Virginia sided with the Glenwood Golf Club and Dudas took his case to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court, stating, “We have consistently adhered to the rule that the owner or occupier of land ordinarily is under no duty to protect its invitee from a third party’s criminal act committed while the invitee is upon the premises. … The fact that the prior criminal acts on the premises of Glenwood Golf Club were of the same nature as the criminal act that caused Dudas’ injury does not change our analysis …”

The court’s ruling also says, “Regardless of whether this previous criminal activity was sufficient to make the subsequent assault on the plaintiff reasonably foreseeable, we (have) narrowed the appropriate inquiry to whether this previous criminal activity was sufficient to ‘lead a reasonable person… to conclude there was an imminent danger of criminal assault’ to the plaintiff.”

Now, let’s take a look at the Thompson vs. Skate American, Inc. decision.

The Virginia Supreme Court has so narrowed its interpretation of responsibility in premises liability cases, that very few plaintiffs can win their cases. I could find only one case in the recent past in which the court ruled with the plaintiff. (Let me repeat that—one case.) Here, the court said in the case of Thompson vs. Skate America, Inc., “we have recognized that when a business investor has knowledge that a particular individual has a history of violent, criminal behavior while on its premises, and thereby poses an imminent probability of harm to an invitee, the business investor has a duty of care to protect its other invitee from assault by that person.”

In the Skate America case, Jonathan Thompson’s mother filed a motion of judgment against Skate America, Travis Bateman, and Bonnie Mundie, Bateman’s mother. According to the legal action, on several prior occasions, Bateman had caused disturbances, arguments and fights. In fact, Bateman had been ejected from the skating rink by its employees and had been banned from reentry on several occasions. He was under that ban on March 12, 1999. On that day in March, Jonathan Thompson and Travis Bateman were standing outside the rink waiting for their parents to pick them up. The lawsuit filed by Jonathan Thompson’s mother states that “Without …provocation, Bateman struck (Thompson) in the back of his skull, causing severe and permanent damage, extensive hospitalization and medical expense and grave emotional damage.”

Skate America filed a demurrer that was sustained by the trial court. The Virginia Supreme Court, however, held that “the allegations of motion for judgment were sufficient to state a cause of action against Skate America and, thus, we further hold that the trial court erred in sustaining Skate America’s demurrer to the motion for judgment.”

In other words, this is the one case where the Virginia Supreme Court held that a business can be responsible for injury to an individual by a third party. The whole issue rested on whether Skate America had a duty of care. “In Virginia, we adhere to the rule that the owner or occupier of land ordinarily is under no duty to protect an invitee from a third person’s criminal act committed while the invitee is upon the premises.” The Virginia courts also adhere to the principle that “before duty can arise with regard to the conduct of third persons, there must be a special relationship between the defendant and either the plaintiff or the third person.”

The Appalachian School of Law knew of Peter Odighizuwa’s history of violence.

The more I looked into the circumstances around the shooting at the law school, the more I looked at the legal profession, and the more I looked at court decisions regarding individual rights versus business, the more intrigued I became.

In Virginia, the judges are elected by the legislature. At present, the Virginia Supreme Court is made up of seven justices elected by a majority of both houses of the General Assembly. To be eligible for election, a candidate must be a resident of Virginia and must have been a member of the Virginia Bar for at least five years. If the General Assembly elects these justices, who elects the General Assembly? Well, large business contributions bankroll most politicians’ campaigns. Newspapers editorials can make or break a candidate’s chances of being elected to the General Assembly. The potential for conflict of interest is readily apparent.

My next posting will examine a particularly alarming decision by the Virginia Supreme Court—a sexual assault on a 13-year-old paperboy. (To be continued)

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