Six Flags Am., L.P. v. Mims
|27 April 2021
|SIX FLAGS AMERICA, L.P., v. NICHOLAUS MIMS, ET UX
|Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
Circuit Court for Prince George's County
Berger, Shaw Geter, Raker, Irma S. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.
Opinion by Shaw Geter, J.
*This is an unreported opinion, and it may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in this Court or any other Maryland Court as either precedent within the rule of stare decisis or as persuasive authority. Md. Rule 1-104.
This is an appeal from a final judgment entered in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County in favor of appellees, Nicholaus Mims, et ux., against appellant, Six Flags America, L.P. A jury found Six Flags liable for injuries sustained by Mims during a security incident at the amusement park. Six Flags timely filed a motion for a new trial/remittitur, which was denied by the court.
Six Flags noted this appeal and presents two questions, which we have slightly rephrased:1
For the following reasons, we hold the trial court's admittance of the response to the request for admission was harmless error, but the trial court abused its discretion in allowing appellees' rebuttal arguments regarding the disappearance of surveillance footage.
On June 17, 2018, appellees, Nicholaus Mims ("Mims") and Antionette Love ("Love"), along with Mims' two sons, visited Six Flags amusement park located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Appellees were in the water park area, known as Hurricane Harbor,when Mims removed his shirt and gave it to Love. At some point, Mims noticed his 12-year-old son was missing and thought that he might be lost. While shirtless, Mims went to look for his son.
After leaving the water park area, Mims was met on two occasions by Six Flags security concerning his state of undress. Six Flags enforces a written and posted policy that prohibits invitees from being shirtless in the park unless invitees are in the designated water park area. On both occasions, he was advised of the shirt policy and on the second occasion, Mims responded loudly. He was then ordered to leave the park and security reinforcement arrived to escort him to the exit. During this time frame, several verbal exchanges occurred between security and Mims. A struggle and altercation occurred at the park exit where Mims' head hit the ground. Love, who witnessed the incident, used her cell phone to video record the incident. Mims was detained by security and later, a security officer advised both Mims and Six Flags personnel of their right to file a complaint. Mims elected not to file a complaint. On July 26, 2018, Mims filed a civil complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County.
During the discovery process, appellees requested Six Flags "[a]dmit that video footage was recorded by loss prevention at the entrance to the park on June 17, 2018, during the time of the incident involving Nicholas Mims." Six Flags' response stated: "[a]dmitted that the entrance of the park was under video by loss prevention."
At trial, appellees presented several eyewitnesses including Mims' son, Dominic Mims and Antionette Love. Love testified that she recorded the altercation on her cell phone but mistakenly recorded only a short portion of the incident. The cell phone videotaken by Love, which consisted of one second of footage, was admitted. Kevin Clark, a former Chief of the Baltimore City Police Department, was admitted as an expert in policing and security2 and opined that Mims was subjected to a "strangulation hold," or a "throating[.]"3
On the third day of trial, prior to resting their case, appellees' counsel began to read into the record, the request for admission and response. Counsel for Six Flags objected, arguing that the response was outside of the scope of relevant evidence. The trial court overruled the objection and the admission was read.
During Six Flags' case in chief, Christopher Wheeler, an expert in the field of digital analysis of iPhones, opined that Love's cell phone video footage had been altered and turned into a one-second live photo or there was a third video file with unknown contents. He based his opinion on his analysis of the metadata. Six Flags used this evidence as the foundation for their spoliation claim.
Following the close of all evidence, the court, at Six Flags' request, instructed the jury on spoliation:
The destruction of or the failure to preserve evidence by [appellees] may give rise to an inference unfavorable to [appellees]. If you find that the intent was to conceal the evidence, the destruction or failure to preserve must be inferred to indicate that [appellees] believe that their case is weak and that they would not prevail if the evidence was preserved. If you find that the destruction orfailure to preserve the evidence was negligent you may, but are not required to, infer that the evidence, if preserved, would have been unfavorable to [appellees].
Counsel then made their closing arguments to the jury. Pertinent to this appeal, the following transpired during appellees' rebuttal closing argument:
Counsel approached the bench, and the following colloquy occurred:
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