Judge Weighs Dismissal of Suit Over Florida Club Massacre

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Security industry giant G4S is pushing for final dismissal of a lawsuit filed against it by victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, who claim the shooter’s firearms training as a G4S security guard enabled him to carry out the attack.

The lawsuit in Palm Beach County court pits G4S Secure Solutions, one of the largest security companies in the U.S., against dozens of Pulse nightclub shooting victims.

Requesting a hearing to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, the company argues it is not liable because Mateen was off duty and more than 100 miles from his workplace when he carried out the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub.

Forty-nine people suffered fatal injuries in the June 2016 attack.

Among the plaintiffs are the estates of Gilberto Silva Menendez, Stanley Almodovar, Luis Ocasio Capo, Simon Carrillo Fernandez, Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, Peter Gonzalez-Cruz, Tevin Crosby, Anthony Laueano-Disla, Jean Carlo Mendez Perez, Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera, Franky DeJesus Velasquez; Javier Jorge Reyes, Kimberly Jean Morris, Xavier Serrano Rosado, Leroy Valentin-Fernandez, and Luis Vielma.

G4S Secure Solutions has called the attack an “independent criminal act” unrelated to Mateen’s nine-year-long employment with the company.

“There is no nexus between the plaintiffs and Mateen’s employment from which a legal duty would flow from G4S,” the company argues, noting that it secured dismissal of a prior version of the lawsuit on those grounds.

The plaintiffs counter that G4S had a duty of care to the public at large since the company made Mateen an expert marksman through extensive firearms training, which was required for his professional gun license. The company retained Mateen as an armed guard for years and provided him with annual firearms training in spite of his alarming behavior, the plaintiffs say.

While working as a G4S guard at a St. Lucie County courthouse, Mateen boasted of supposed family ties to Al-Qaeda, praised terrorist Nidal Hasan, threatened a deputy and professed that he wanted to die as a martyr among other unsettling conduct, the plaintiffs say.

His comments at the courthouse prompted the FBI to interview him in 2013 and 2014 over concerns he was an Islamic extremist, though no legal action was taken.

The lawsuit claims that after county officials concerned about Mateen’s statements told G4S to remove him from his courthouse post, the company negligently kept him on its staff and transferred him to a private community security detail, after which point his disturbing conduct persisted, with bigoted tirades and violent rhetoric around his new coworker.

G4S should have halted Mateen’s annual firearms training and contacted state authorities to revoke his professional gun license in light of all the red flags, the plaintiffs say.

The gun license, the plaintiffs say, should never have been given to Mateen in the first place. They say his G4S-administered psychological evaluation — a requirement for his Class G gun license — falsely stated that a doctor named Carol Nudelman screened him. Nudelman was no longer working for G4S at the time, and Mateen was likely never screened by a mental health professional at the outset of his employment with G4S, the lawsuit argues.

Admitting that the doctor’s name incorrectly appeared on Mateen’s psych evaluation document, G4S called the snafu a “clerical error,” indicating that another doctor did sign off on Mateen’s written psych screening.

The Florida governmental department that handles gun licenses announced in late 2016 that is was fining the security giant more than $150,000 for falsely listing Nudelman’s name on 1,500 psychological evaluations.

In its latest motion to dismiss, the company characterizes the bevy of claims in the lawsuit as a side story.

It argues the lawsuit raises “irrelevant and meritless peripheral issues that this Court has already rejected.”

G4S notes that Circuit Court judge Donald Hafele dismissed an earlier version of the lawsuit in Jan. 2018.

The judge wrote that  “there are no allegations whatsoever” that the company “had any direction or control over Mateen at the time of this tragic event.”

Mateen’s Class G professional gun license was active in the summer 2016 when he went to a local gun shop to buy the Sig Sauer rifle and Glock handgun with which he perpetrated the attack. However, Judge Hafele stated that under Florida law, Mateen would have been able to legally buy the firearms without the license.

The court appeared unpersuaded by the plaintiffs’ citation of post-shooting public statements by the gun shop owner, in which he justified selling the guns to Mateen by pointing to Mateen’s professional gun license.

“Mateen’s Class-G firearms license … had no legal impact on his ability to purchase the firearms used in the shooting,” Judge Hafele wrote.

The judge further rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to evoke Stevens v. USA. In that case, a federal court allowed the family of a victim who died in the 2001 anthrax letter killings to sue the U.S. government, on claims that it had failed to the secure anthrax specimens that were used to lace the letters.

“The court finds Stevens to be distinguishable from the instant facts,” Hafele wrote. “In Stevens, the government created an ultra-hazardous toxin in a laboratory and owed a duty to the public to implement adequate safeguards to prevent its removal. While the government’s duty extended to the general public, it was traceable to a specific location that could be monitored and secured.”

The judge went on to write: “Unlike anthrax, which can be created and destroyed in a laboratory, firearms training is an intangible property that cannot be isolated. Plaintiffs’ position, which the court respectfully rejects, would require Defendant to protect the general public from Mateen in perpetuity without any spatial or temporal limits.”

Judge Hafele has not yet addressed the defense’s motion for final dismissal of the case from the Palm Beach County circuit court.

G4S is urging the judge to set a one-hour hearing on the motion. The company’s defense team plans to contest that the plaintiffs’ amended complaint recasts the same claims and fails to address the duty-of-care issues outlined by the judge in his previous order.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys at the law firm of Cohen Milstein maintain that the defense’s stance construes case law on negligence too narrowly, and that G4S’s affirmative acts in arming and training Mateen created foreseeable risks to the public, meaning no special relationship between the plaintiffs and the company was necessary in order for them to bring a claim.

Neither Cohen Milstein nor defense counsel at Holland & Knight have responded to requests for comment on the case.

Mateen’s widow Noor Salman was dropped as a defendant from the lawsuit, as was the security firm’s multibillion-dollar parent company, leaving G4S Secure Solutions USA as the sole defendant.

A jury in March cleared Salman of criminal charges that she helped Mateen plan and prepare for the assault.

Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during the attack, died in a confrontation with police after an  hours-long standoff at the Pulse club. He had driven from his Fort Pierce family home, where he lived with Salman and their toddler, to Orlando in order to carry out the shooting.

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