Estate of Saylor v. Regal Cinemas, Inc.

Decision Date16 October 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. WMN–13–3089.
Citation54 F.Supp.3d 409
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland
PartiesThe ESTATE OF Robert Ethan SAYLOR et al. v. REGAL CINEMAS, INC. et al.

Joseph B. Espo, Sharon Krevor Weisbaum, Brett David Watson, Brown Goldstein and Levy LLP, Baltimore, MD, for Plaintiffs.

Megan Anne Kinsey–Smith, Ronald George Guziak, Bonner Kiernan Trebach and Crociata LLP, Washington, DC, Daniel Karp, Karpinski Colaresi and Karp PA, Baltimore, MD, for Defendants.


WILLIAM M. NICKERSON, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are the following motions: (1) a motion to dismiss filed by three Frederick County Sheriff's Deputies: Defendants Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell, and James Harris (the Deputies), ECF No. 26; (2) a motion to dismiss, or for summary judgment, filed by Defendant Regal Cinemas, Inc. (Regal), ECF No. 27; and (3) a motion to dismiss, or for summary judgment filed by Defendant State of Maryland (the State), ECF No. 44. The motions are ripe. Upon review of the filings and the applicable case law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, that the motions filed by the Deputies and State will be granted in part and denied in part, and that Regal's motion will be granted.


This case arises out of the tragic death of 26–year–old Robert Ethan Saylor, an individual with Down Syndrome. Mr. Saylor died after three off-duty Frederick County Deputy Sheriffs, Defendants Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell, and James Harris, attempted to force him to leave a movie theater owned and operated by Defendant Regal because he was attempting to view a movie for a second time without paying for a second ticket. At the time, the Deputies were working as security guards for the mall in which the theater was located, the Westview Promenade Mall. A struggle ensued in the course of the attempted removal of Mr. Saylor from the theater and, by the end of that struggle, Mr. Saylor suffered a fractured larynx and died of asphyxiation. The details of this encounter, as alleged in the First Amended Complaint, are as follows.

Mr. Saylor had an I.Q. of about 40, the physical and facial features common to individuals with Down Syndrome, and was easily recognizable as someone with this disability. He was also both short and obese, standing at about 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing almost 300 pounds. Mr. Saylor lived in a separate apartment connected to his mother's home. A full-time aide, Mary Crosby, was employed to assist Mr. Saylor with living in the community. While Mr. Saylor often traveled about in the community, he did not like to be touched, particularly by strangers. He also sometimes displayed anger when he was frustrated and could be difficult to redirect from one activity to another. Ms. Crosby, other caretakers, and family members were well aware of these characteristics.

Mr. Saylor was an avid moviegoer and was a regular patron of the Regal Cinemas, having seen hundreds of movies there. On the evening of January 12, 2013, Mr. Saylor, accompanied by Ms. Crosby, went to an early showing of the movie Zero Dark Thirty. When the movie was over, Mr. Saylor and Ms. Crosby exited the theater and Ms. Crosby inquired if Mr. Saylor was ready to go home. Mr. Saylor became angry and Ms. Crosby called Mr. Saylor's mother to inquire how to proceed. Mrs. Saylor suggested Ms. Crosby go and bring the car around to give Mr. Saylor the opportunity to calm down and she did so.

When Ms. Crosby returned with the car, she discovered that Mr. Saylor had gone back into the theater to see the movie a second time. While she was in the lobby of the theater, the theater manager approached her and stated that Mr. Saylor had to purchase another ticket or leave the theater. Ms. Crosby explained that Mr. Saylor had Down Syndrome and that no one should attempt to speak with him. She also requested that the manager simply wait a bit to let her attempt to deal with Mr. Saylor. Despite that request, the manager called for assistance from one of the Deputies who was working as a mall security guard and, Plaintiffs allege, on information and belief, that the manager asked the Deputy to remove Mr. Saylor from the theater.

That Deputy, believed to be Defendant Rochford, then approached Ms. Crosby and repeated the manager's admonition that Mr. Saylor would need to purchase another ticket or leave the theater. According to the First Amended Complaint,

[Ms. Crosby] told the Deputy about Mr. Saylor's disability and asked again that they just “wait out” Mr. Saylor's refusal to leave the theater. She told the deputy that she had spoken with Mr. Saylor's mother, who was coming to the theater, and that Mr. Saylor would “freak out” if he was touched and that he would resist being forcibly ejected. She told the deputy that if given sufficient time she and Mrs. Saylor could handle the situation.

ECF No. 19 ¶ 23.

Meanwhile, Mr. Saylor sat quietly in the same seat in which he had sat when watching the movie the first time. Despite Ms. Crosby's warning, Defendant Rochford approached Mr. Saylor and told him that he needed to leave the theater. Mr. Saylor refused and the Deputy asked the manager to call for the other two Deputies who were also working as mall security guards, indicating we are gonna have an issue here.’ Id. ¶ 26. After ordering Ms. Crosby to stay out of the theater, the three Deputies approached Mr. Saylor and told him he had to leave the theater.

Mr. Saylor refused to leave and, according to the First Amended Complaint,

two of the three deputies grabbed Mr. Saylor, one by each arm, and tried to drag him from the theater while telling him he was going to jail. As they neared the rear of the theater with the struggle underway the Deputies handcuffed Mr. Saylor with his hands behind his back. Mr. Saylor was heard to scream “mommy, mommy” and say “it hurts.”
At the back of the theater, Mr. Saylor—handcuffed and held by the deputies—ended up on the floor with at least one deputy on top of him. As the deputies manhandled Mr. Saylor, they fractured his larynx making it difficult for him to breathe. Because this was apparent, the deputies rolled him to his side, removed his handcuffs, and called emergency medical technicians. It was too late—Mr. Saylor suffocated.

Id. ¶¶ 27–28. Mr. Saylor was later pronounced dead at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

In the original complaint, ECF No. 1, Plaintiffs, Mr. Saylor's parents, individually and as personal representatives of Mr. Saylor's estate, named the Frederick County Sheriff's Department and Frederick County as Defendants, in addition to Regal and the Deputies.1 In their First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 19, they eliminated the Sheriff's Department and the County and, instead, added the State of Maryland, which is the statutory employer of the Deputy Sheriffs. The First Amended Complaint asserts the following claims against the Deputies: survival claims on behalf of Mr. Saylor's estate for negligence (Count II), gross negligence (Count V), battery (Count VII), and an excessive force claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IX). Plaintiffs assert two survival claims against the State under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. (ADA), one based on a failure to train theory (Count X) and one on the theory that the State, as the joint employer of the Deputies, is liable for actions the Deputies took in violation of Title II (Count XI). Plaintiffs also assert survival claims against Regal for negligence (Count I) and gross negligence (Count IV). Finally, Plaintiffs, in their individual capacities, bring a Wrongful Death action against all Defendants (Count XII).

In their respective motions, the Deputies, Regal, and the State of Maryland all seek dismissal of all claims asserted against them. Regal and the State also purport to move, in the alternative, for summary judgment. To the extent Regal is actually seeking summary judgment, it appears to rely on witness statements given to the police as part of the investigation of this incident. These statements suggest that Defendant Rochford, at least initially, attempted to coax Mr. Saylor to leave the theater in a polite and professional manner and that it was Mr. Saylor that first became disruptive. ECF No. 28–1. In response, Plaintiffs attach to their opposition other witness statements that report that Mr. Saylor was sitting peacefully before the Deputies attempted to extract him from his seat. ECF No. 37–2.

While Regal submitted exhibits with its motion and captioned the motion as one seeking, in the alternative, summary judgment, in discussing the standard of review to be applied to its motion, Regal provides only the standard for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), making no mention of the standard for a summary judgment motion under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Instead of presenting that alternative standard, Regal suggests that the Court can consider its proffered witness statements without converting the motion to one under Rule 56 because those statements are being submitted to “address and rebut the reference to such statements and reliance thereon by Plaintiffs.” ECF No. 28 at 2.

Plaintiffs did make a single passing reference to “numerous witness accounts” in their First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 19 ¶ 24. Assuming these are the same accounts that Plaintiffs attached to their opposition, these are handwritten “Statements” apparently prepared at the theater shortly after the confrontation. ECF No. 37–2. In contrast, the documents submitted by Regal with its motion are typewritten “Supplemental Incident Reports” prepared by members of the Sheriff's Department based on interviews they conducted with witnesses, mostly at the sheriff's office. Not only are these documents different than those referenced in the Complaint, they are not the type of documents that are “integral to and explicitly relied upon in the complaint” which the Court would be...

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