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Family Can Sue Landlord Over Roomate Murder

(CN) - The family of a murder victim can sue his landlord for failure to warn him of his roommate's violent tendencies, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled.

Bobby Batiste was convicted of murdering his roommate, Andreas Galanis.

Batiste was one of the apartment's original tenants when it opened near the campus of Mississippi State University. The apartment complex also employed Batiste as a security guard.

Before they roomed together, Batiste wrote a complaint to his landlord, 21 Apartments, about his previous roommate, Arthur Hosey.

After discussing the mess in their apartment, Batiste stated, "I can't take it anymore. I don't want to get violent ... I hope this get(s) resolved soon because I really don't want to take matters in(to) my own hands."

21 Apartments originally denied Batiste's request to renew his lease because he failed a background check, but the company relented after his attorney explained that Batiste had not been convicted of credit-card fraud.

In August 2007, 21 Apartments matched Batiste with Galanis, figuring that they would get along due to their similar ages and mutual love of football.

Galanis discovered that thousands of dollars were missing from his bank account in March 2008. Suspecting Batiste, he notified his landlord, the bank and the police department.

When he returned to his apartment, Galanis accused Batiste of stealing his debit card and demanded the return of his money.

Instead, Batiste beat Galanis to death with a tire iron.

One day later, Galanis' body was found in his apartment, inside a wheelbarrow and wrapped in a rug.

Batiste was convicted, and Galanis' mother and sister sued 21 Apartments for failure to provide safe premises, failure to warn Galanis about Batiste, and failure to conduct proper background checks.

The trial court ruled in 21 Apartments' favor, stating that it owed no duty to Galanis. The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling.

The Galanis family took the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which ruled that the circuit court should not have granted summary judgment to the landlord.

"Batiste's letter provided 21 Apartments actual knowledge that Batiste had violent tendencies," Justice Jess Dickinson wrote on the court's behalf. "And with actual knowledge, when 21 Apartments suggested that Batiste and Galanis meet to consider being roommates, it had a duty to warn Galanis about Batiste's threats against his former roommate."

Justice James Kitchens wrote a separate opinion, stating that his colleagues should have allowed the Galanis family to pursue its negligence claim as well as its premises-liability action.

"21 Apartments assumed additional duties outside those imposed upon landlords by law, by performing background checks and by administering a roommate-matching program," he wrote. "Moreover, the record is clear that 21 Apartments failed to discharge these duties with reasonable care."

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