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Akridge v. Fathom, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

January 7, 2015

JERTERRIUS MARSHAWN AKRIDGE ET AL.
v.
FATHOM, INC. ET AL.

Session Date: October 30, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No. 12C1531 Jacqueline S. Bolton, Judge

N. Mark Kinsman and J. Chad Hogue, Hixson, Tennessee, for the appellants, Fathom, Inc. and Timothy Reid.

Thomas A. Williams and James F. Exum, III, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellants, 412 Market Street Trust and Beverly B. Henry, Trustee for 412 Market Street Trust.

Rodney H. Bennett, Rossville, Georgia, for the appellees, Jerterrius Marshawn Akridge; Thomas Lamar Armstrong; Demonya Marquel Battle a/k/a Demonta Battle, a minor, b/n/f and mother Yoniika Pointer; Raheem Blunt; and Juane Lontate Joseph.

Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and D. Michael Swiney, J., joined.

OPINION

THOMAS R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Jerterrius Marshawn Akridge; Thomas Lamar Armstrong; Demonya Marquel Battle a/k/a Demonta Battle, a minor, b/n/f and mother Yoniika Pointer; Raheem Blunt; and Juane Lontate Joseph ("Plaintiffs") filed this action regarding a shooting that occurred outside Club Fathom, a youth outreach ministry operated by its owners, Fathom, Inc. and Timothy Reid, at 412 Market Street. Defendants Fathom, Inc. and Mr. Reid lease the premises at 412 Market Street from defendants 412 Market Street Trust and Beverly Henry, Trustee ("Defendants" collectively).

Plaintiffs alleged that they were attending a public musical event at Club Fathom on December 24, 2011. Club Fathom ministers to at-risk youth, including rival gang members. Plaintiffs asserted that certain patrons at Club Fathom on that evening wore gang colors and that an altercation erupted inside the building. According to Plaintiffs, the security personnel employed by Club Fathom then stopped the event and forced all patrons to exit the building. Plaintiffs were subsequently "caught in the crossfire of a shootout which occurred outside the premises."

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, positing that they own nothing beyond the four walls of the 412 Market Street building. All surrounding structures and parking lots are owned by other entities. Defendants argued that since the complaint only alleged liability based on a tortious event happening outside the building, Defendants could not be liable.

Plaintiffs claimed that Club Fathom had a history of violence and that numerous incidents of crime and public disorder had occurred there. Plaintiffs averred that several months prior to the incident in question, the former mayor, former police chief, and representatives of the district attorney's office met with Mr. Reid due to ongoing problems at the club. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants violated a duty to them, as invitees of Club Fathom, to operate the club in a reasonably safe manner.

The trial court's order regarding the pending motions states in pertinent part:
Because the defendants have filed discovery responses with their Motion to Dismiss and the plaintiffs have filed Affidavits and a deposition transcript as part of their response, the defendants' Motion to Dismiss shall be converted to a Motion for Summary Judgment.
* * *
This case is a premises liability action involving a shooting that occurred adjacent to Defendants' club and property. Defendant, Fathom, Inc., was a venue intended to minister to at risk urban youth by holding open mic nights and musical events. Defendant, Fathom, Inc., held an event at the premises it leased from Defendant, 412 Market Street Trust, on December 24, 2011. On this night, an altercation broke out inside the club. The club's security officers shut down the event, removing the patrons who were fighting as well as forcing all the patrons to exit the club. Shortly after the patrons exited the club, gunfire began outside and the plaintiffs were injured.
Plaintiffs argue that before the Court decides the defendants' summary judgment motion, it should address the Plaintiffs' Motion to Declare T.C.A. §20-16-101 Unconstitutional. The State of Tennessee intervened to file a brief in opposition to the plaintiffs' motion and urges the Court not to address the constitutionality issue unless it is absolutely necessary to the Court's decision and the parties' rights. Delany v. Thompson, 982 S.W.2d 857, 858 (Tenn. 1998). The Court agrees with the State. At this time, the Court ...

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