Aurora Theater Shooting

Aurora Theater Owner Drops Demand That Victims Pay $700K in Legal Fees

Update: In May, a jury determined that Cinemark, owner of the Aurora Century 16, wasn't liable for the July 20, 2012, attack by James Holmes that resulted in twelve deaths and seventy injuries; see our previous coverage below.

Afterward, Cinemark took what many observers saw as a shocking step, demanding that the plaintiffs — mainly family members of murder victims and wounded patrons — pay the company's legal fees, a sum estimated at nearly $700,000.

In the end, however, this action turned out to be a legal maneuver. In late August, a stipulation filed in Arapahoe County Court found all but four of the plaintiffs agreeing not to appeal the decision against them in exchange for Cinemark setting aside its reimbursement demand; the document is shared below. And now, Cinemark has formally dropped the compensation request for everyone named in the original Arapahoe County suit.

A similar case filed in federal court by two other victims — Stefan Moton and Ashley Moser, both of whom were paralyzed in the attack — also appears to be winding down. Soon, the legal odyssey set into motion by a stunning act of violence more than four years ago will be over. But the agony lingers. Continue to see the aforementioned stipulation document, followed by our earlier reports.

Aurora Theater Shooting Lawsuit Stipulation

Update, 12:34 p.m. May 19: The Aurora theater shooting civil trial, which we previewed earlier this month (see our previous coverage below), has concluded — and the jury found that the owner of the Aurora Century 16 wasn't liable for the attack, which killed twelve people and injured seventy others on July 20, 2012.

The jury reportedly deliberated for just three hours before reaching its decision.

Marc Bern, the attorney for the plaintiffs, had argued that Cinemark, owner of the theater, was negligent for not placing a silent alarm on the back door that killer James Holmes accessed (doing so would have cost around $800) or arranging for armed security or perimeter patrols for such a high-profile event — the midnight-screening debut of the much-anticipated film The Dark Knight Rises.

Kevin Taylor, Cinemark's lawyer, countered that the company couldn't have anticipated Holmes's horrific assault, maintaining that "never in the history of this media had anyone committed mass murder." He also said that Holmes was so committed to his deadly plan that none of the actions cited by Bern would have stopped him.

In the end, the jury appears to have agreed with Taylor's statement that "this case is about what James Holmes did."

Continue for our previous report.

Original post, 7:48 a.m. May 9: The wheels of justice grind slowly — especially when it comes to the Aurora theater shooting.

In October 2012, we told you about a lawsuit filed against Cinemark, owner of the Century 16 theater where James Holmes killed twelve people and injured seventy others on July 20 of that year, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

Today, well over three years later — and more than nine months after Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the crimes — the civil case targeting Cinemark is finally going to trial in Arapahoe County.

According to 9News, the families of 28 victims have signed on to the suit — even more than was initially the case.

The original plaintiffs included a number of people you've met in this space. Among them were Farrah Soudani, who got an assist from to help defray enormous medical costs associated with the serious injuries she sustained, and Yousef Gharbi, a teenager shot in the head during the assault.

Another plaintiff was Mike White, Sr., who was at the theater with his son, Mike White, Jr., during the fateful screening. The elder White wasn't physically injured, but his namesake suffered severe wounds.

The lawsuit was pressed under the auspices of Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik & Associates, LLP, a firm that secured an $816.5 million settlement in a complaint focused on 9/11 first responders.

The "General Allegations" section of the document, shared below, maintains that the Century 16 "posed an unreasonably dangerous risk to paying customers such as Plaintiffs because Defendants had failed to ensure that the subject premises were safe and secure for its paying customers and were free of the violent crime and the risk of violent crime."

To back up this contention, the suit argues that prior to July 20, "Defendants were on notice that the subject premises posed an unreasonably dangerous risk to paying customers because it had previously been the site of shootings, robberies and assaults," including a gang shooting reported by the New York Times in August 2012.

At times, the theater had hired security personnel to work on Friday and Saturday nights, the suit continues — but that wasn't the case on July 20. (Security had been on hand earlier on July 19 during a transfer of cash but had split afterward.) Moreover, the suit notes that the emergency exit door to Auditorium 9, where the attack was centered, lacked an alarm that might have sounded after the assailant, presumed to be James Holmes, blocked it open in order to arm himself and don protective gear. Likewise, no alarm went off after he opened fire, and "no action [was] taken by theater employees to safely evacuate the many people left in Auditorium 9."

As such, the suit says, "the Assailant continued shooting throughout the Auditorium until eventually his weapon jammed and the shooting stopped. He then walked back out of the theater through the same door he used to enter and sat in his car."

Given these events, the suit states that the Defendants "actually knew or should have known" about dangers to patrons — a duty that was "breached...when it failed to engage in reasonable efforts to inspect the premises and to make the subject premises safe."

The alleged failures are enumerated like so:
a. failed to inspect and/or adequately inspect and ensure that the subject premises was adequately guarded, secure and safe from unauthorized use of the premises as described herein;

b. failed to ensure that alarms would sound when the emergency exits on the subject premises were opened and/or activated;

c. failed to take steps to make sure emergency exit doors could not be propped open and used as an egress and ingress into the theater;

d. failed to employ sufficient staff to monitor all ingresses and egresses;

e. failed to establish policies to monitor all ingresses and egresses and/or enforce such policies and to adequately train their staff to appropriately monitor all ingresses and egresses;

f. failed to provide appropriate security on and within the premises as well as generally failed to adequately secure the premises;

g. failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances to discover the foreseeable dangerous conditions of said premises and to correct same or to warn invitees and/or customers of their existence, as well as other potential risks known to Defendants and of which Defendants were on notice of, when attending movie showings at their theater;

h. failed to properly train employees or provide reasonable surveillance procedures including, but not limited to, surveillance devices, monitors, cameras and human surveillance or monitoring of suspicious activity;

i. failed to develop, establish and institute adequate emergency or first-aid response and evacuation plans and procedures for patrons in the theater in the event circumstances called for such procedures; and

j. failed to properly train employees in emergency, crisis and first-aid response and evacuation procedures.
Cinemark's response to lawsuits related to the theater shooting is summarized in the following two paragraphs:
The essence of the complaint is that Cinemark "should have known" that James Holmes would commit a mass murderous assault in the Century 16 Theater on July 20.... Federal, state and local law-enforcement entities...would not be expected to foresee Mr. Holmes' criminal conduct.... Family members and friends who knew him personally for multiple years did not foresee it....

It would be patently unfair, and legally unsound, to impose on Cinemark...the duty and burden to have foreseen and prevented the criminal equivalent of a meteor falling from the sky. Thus, even accepting the allegations in the complaint as true, plaintiffs cannot state a claim that anyone other than Mr. Holmes, the irrational killer, is responsible for the consequences of his criminal conduct.
Look below to see a 7News report about the lawsuit, followed by the original October 2012 complaint.

Aurora Theater Shooting Families v. Cinemark

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts