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Suit Thwarted by Ownership Maze
by Ron Davis
A woman injured at a Virginia shopping center may have blown her chances for compensation through her choice of lawsuit targets.
The shopping center is Tysons Corner Center, a large shopping mall in suburban Washington, DC, and the woman suffered her injury at a movie theater located there. The woman, who resides in the District of Columbia, had, several days before her mishap, read in a Washington newspaper about a movie, “Mouse Hunt,” showing at the theater. She said she decided to attend the movie, but when she went there and sat down, the seat collapsed and she fell to the floor.
In her resulting lawsuit, filed in the District of Columbia, she claimed that the fall caused “pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages and medical expenses.” Her lawsuit, however, blamed Lowes Washington Cinemas, Inc., the operator of the theater where her injuries occurred, for her fall. That company is wholly owned by Lowes Theater Management Corp., which in turn is wholly owned by Lowes Cineplex Entertainment Corp. And Lowes Washington Cinemas, Inc., has never owned or operated any theaters in the District of Columbia. Nor did Lowes Washington Cinemas, Inc., advertise in the Washington newspaper that ran information about the movie “Mouse Hunt.”
In fact, Lowes Cineplex Entertainment, not Lowes Washington Cinemas, did place advertisements in the Washington newspaper where the woman read the information about the showing of “Mouse Hunt” at Tysons Corner Center. Therefore, Lowes’ defense claimed there was no showing of involvement by Lowes Washington Cinemas in placing advertisements in District of Columbia media.
On the other hand, the Lowes corporations routinely share legal, advertising, and maintenance/ repair operations. As such, the woman added, District of Columbia courts can hear and rule on her complaint.
A District of Columbia court disagreed with the woman’s argument and dismissed the lawsuit. The woman appealed.
A District of Columbia appellate court upheld the lower court, explaining, “The evidence of control [of Lowes Washington Cinemas by Lowes Cineplex Entertainment Corp.] was insufficient, standing alone, to permit us to pierce the corporate veil for the purpose of establishing personal jurisdiction…. Absent ‘affirmative evidence’ of an alter ego or an agency relationship, the injured woman cannot pierce that corporate veil and thereby link the entity that was actually responsible for the movie advertisements. If the injured woman wanted to recover against Lowes Washington Cinemas for the injuries she suffered in Virginia, she should have filed her lawsuit in Virginia.” (Jackson v. Lowes Washington Cinemas, Inc., 2008 WL 793617 [D.C.])
Decision: April 2008
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