by Michael J. Shapiro | July 19, 2018
The lawsuit filed by MGM Resorts this week, a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeks a court ruling with respect to the mass shooting that occurred at Mandalay Bay last year. Because it names attendees of the concert at which the shooting happened as defendants, the suit caused a massive public outcry. However, as explained in the NBC News article, which was referenced in yesterday's Meeting News, MGM isn't seeking anything from the victims.
"All we are doing, in effect, is asking for a change in venue from state to federal court," said Debra DeShong, MGM Resorts senior vice president of global corporate communications and industry affairs, in a statement. "We are not asking for money or attorney's fees, and our complaint is directed only at people who have already sued us or have threatened to sue us. We are seeking justice through the federal court system in order to reach a timely resolution."
 
The grounds for moving the case to a federal court, according to MGM's complaint, are based on the post 9/11 federal SAFETY Act, which limits liability claims for acts of terrorism when security services are provided by a qualified vendor. In the case of the music festival outside Mandalay Bay that the shooter targeted, security provider Contemporary Services Corp. was a vendor qualified by the Department of Homeland Security.
 
"The explanation provided by NBC does a good job of clarifying what the lawsuit filed by MGM on behalf of the Mandalay Bay is all about," responded John S. Foster, Esq., attorney and counselor at law with Foster, Jensen & Gulley, in a post on Northstar Meetings Group's MIForum. "A suit for declaratory judgment is commonly used. This type of suit is filed in order to get a judge to make a ruling and issue a judgment on one or more critical legal issues in a dispute. It is not intended to dispose of the suit or require one side to be held responsible. Its entire purpose is to focus the court on one or more specific issues that the filing party requests to be addressed that they believe will cut the litigation time and expense for both parties. The reason it is couched as a lawsuit of one party against the other is to give the second party a chance to respond as to whether they believe the court should or shouldn't make a ruling.

"The suit is strictly a procedural move that doesn't require anything of the victims except to agree or disagree," continued Foster. "The defendant's lawyer has already said he will file a motion against the declaratory judgment by having the court claim that MGM is not exempt from liability. 
 
"This suit by MGM is not anti-hospitality or anti-victim," Foster concluded. "As a public company, they are required to exercise due diligence to protect their stockholders if they have a valid defense under law to not be held liable. I have no opinion on whether or not they will prevail."
 
No doubt MGM is following a procedure it must to properly defend itself, agreed M&C legal expert Jonathan Howe, founding partner and president of Howe & Hutton, Ltd. But he's not so sure he would have gone about it the same way, from a public-relations standpoint. "MGM served the meal before it set the table in this case," he said. "A lot of times in these situations, setting the table is really important. They could have offered up their concerns and what options they had and then filed the declaratory action, rather than filing the lawsuit and then explaining what they did. I don't know if it would have made it more palatable, but I do think it would have been more understandable."
 
As for the suit itself, Howe believes he probably would have taken the same action as MGM, if involved in such a situation. But he doesn't entirely agree that the complaint isn't anti-victim. "It is anti-victim in the fact they're trying to cut MGM out of any possibility liability," he asserted. "It is an attempt to limit the ability of an alleged victim to pursue MGM for damages." 
 
Whatever the decision, it will have ramifications and spark further discussion about the future of hotel responsibility. "How far does a hotel have to go to protect people on the street, or other guests, from a guest in the hotel? Be careful what you wish for here, because we don't want hotel lobbies to look like airport terminals," advised Foster. "Everyone must have their luggage X-rayed, guests' luggage must be inspected, guests are interrogated as to why they are there, guests have to come to the front desk if they stay more than a certain number of days to explain why they're staying longer, etc. I, for one, don't want hotels to be like airline terminals, but it might get to that."