Weekly Law Resume - September 9, 2010: Premises Liability - Duty To Protect Customers Does Not Extend To Criminal Conduct Occurring Outside of Owner's Property

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California law imposes an affirmative duty on business owners to protect customers from foreseeable third-party criminal conduct. This obligation derives from the special relationship between a business owner and his or her customers. The question presented in this case is whether the duty extends to acts that occur beyond the owner's property.

Club Metro, a bar and dance club located inside the U.S. Naval Base in San Diego, hosted a weekly Hip Hop Night. Navy Seaman Roderick Little and his friends attended the party. Marine Lance Corporal Myron Thomas and his friends also visited the club that same evening. The two parties got into a fight on the dance floor. Security personnel intervened. The two groups got into a further fight in the parking lot of the club. Again, security personnel broke up the fight and instructed both groups to leave the Navy base.

As the Thomas car drove out the secured exit to the base, posted security officers heard someone in Thomas' vehicle say, "I'm going to do a 187." Both officers understood this to be a threat of murder. Neither of the officers could see who made the statement and the vehicle sped off before the officers could get a license plate number. One of the officers thought to report the threat to dispatch, but got tied up directing traffic.

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