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Friedman v. Safe Security Services

February 06, 2002

JANICE FRIEDMAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SAFE SECURITY SERVICES, INC., AND COMMAND SECURITY CORP. D/B/A CSC SECURITIES SERVICES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 96 L 01314 The Honorable Deborah Mary Dooling, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson

UNPUBLISHED

Plaintiff Janice Friedman ("Friedman"), a psychologist, treated patients in an office suite located on the 20th floor of the Garland building in Chicago. L.J. Sheridan & Co. ("L.J. Sheridan") was the property management company responsible for the Garland building. One of its responsibilities included contracting with defendant Safe Security Services, Inc. ("Safe Security") to provide security services for the building's tenants.

On May 10, 1994, an unidentified intruder sexually assaulted Friedman in her office suite. Friedman brought an action for damages against Safe Security contending that Safe Security was negligent in securing the Garland building and that such negligence was a proximate cause of her sexual assault by an unknown intruder. L.J. Sheridan was not sued. In August 2000, a jury was selected and the case was tried until the trial judge granted Safe Security's motion for a directed verdict "due to the lack of evidence as to the element of causation."

On appeal, Friedman contends the trial court erred (1) in granting defendant's motion in limine barring certain opinions of Friedman's security expert, Gerald Brandt, regarding proximate cause; (2) in granting defendant's motion for a directed verdict; and (3) in disregarding the testimony of defense witness George McAlister when it ruled on defendant's motion for a directed verdict.

We affirm.

FACTS

On Tuesday, May 10, 1994, Dr. Janice Friedman went to work in her office suite in the Garland building in Chicago. She saw patients all day. At about 7:00 p.m., she tidied the office, checked the answering machine, turned off the lights, and headed home. As she opened her office door to leave, she heard the elevator -- the elevator was across the hall, directly in front of her office door.

Friedman did not reach the elevator. As she opened the office door, an intruder suddenly thrust her back into her office and threw her to the floor. From her vantage point, inside her office and behind the door, she could not see where the intruder came from. She did not know whether the intruder had just exited the elevator and rushed the office door or whether he was in the hallway waiting for her to open the door.

The unknown intruder, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and big, dark sunglasses, entered Friedman's office. He held a knife to her throat and sexually assaulted her. The identity of the intruder was and is unknown.

After sexually assaulting Friedman, the intruder tied her up and told her not to move for ten minutes. He then left. About ten minutes later, Friedman left her office, went to the building's lobby, saw defendant's employee, security guard George McAlister -- he had been on duty since 5:00 p.m. -- and called her husband. A short time later, Friedman's husband arrived and took her to Northwestern Memorial Hospital emergency room. Friedman received treatment for her physical injuries and was released.

After filing suit against Safe Security, Friedman retained Gerald Brandt ("Brandt") to give his expert opinion on the issue of building security. At the outset of the trial, Safe Security filed a motion in limine to preclude Friedman's expert, Brandt, from opining: (1) the intruder entered the building immediately before, or some short time before, sexually assaulting Friedman; and (2) the intruder walked through the front door of the building, past the person occupying the security desk, and rode up the elevator to Friedman's office.

Safe Security contended Brandt's opinions had no basis in fact and were pure surmise and conjecture. After an extensive hearing, the trial court agreed. It barred Brandt from giving those opinions.

At trial, Brandt testified he was the owner of Baker Eubanks, a security guard and security consulting company. Brandt's company had been located in the Garland building since 1998.

Brandt held a license required by the State of Illinois to operate his company and he possessed a private detective's license. He had taught courses in security, both as a police officer and in the private sector. He explained to the jury the requirements of becoming a security guard/officer in Illinois and what it was to work as one. He also explained his familiarity with post orders ("instructions to the guard to tell him what to do at the specific location at various times of the day"), guard reports ("a document that a guard should fill out *** to indicate anything *** that occurred on his post during the course of the evening"), security manuals (a larger, more detailed version of the post orders), and other materials relevant to a building's security operation.

In formulating his opinions regarding Safe Security and its breaches of standards of care in securing the Garland building on May 10, 1994, Brandt reviewed the depositions of plaintiff Janice Friedman; George McAlister, the security guard on duty at the time of Friedman's sexual assault; Lucy Sliepka, a representative of L.J. Sheridan; and Charles Saul, the vice president and senior representative of L.J. Sheridan. He also reviewed police reports relating to the investigation of Friedman's sexual assault, the guard report and sign-in sheets for the evening of the assault, reports reflecting a prior sexual assault in the building, and other documents. Brandt also inspected the Garland building, despite his familiarity with parts of it.

Brandt offered the jury three opinions with respect to Safe Security and its breaches of standards of care on May 10, 1994. First, he opined George McAlister's security guard report from the evening of May 10, 1994, did not comply with proper procedures for filling out a guard report in the security industry. Most significantly, McAlister's guard report failed to show he was relieved at any time.

According to Brandt, "It would be extremely unusual for a security officer to go to a post and remain there for eight hours." Because McAlister's report did not show he was relieved on the evening of May 10, 1994, Brandt concluded the guard report showed he abandoned his post -- the security desk in the lobby of the Garland building -- throughout the evening and abandoned his post without appropriate relief.

Second, Brandt opined the sign-in sheet from the evening of May 10, 1994, confirmed McAlister must have been away from his post throughout the evening. Brandt testified that beginning at 5:30 p.m. a visitor to the Garland building was required to sign in at the security desk in the lobby and indicate which suite he or she was visiting. Likewise, the visitor was required to sign out when he or she left the building.

Brandt said the sign-in sheet from the evening of May 10, 1994, was not accurate or complete. Specifically, visitors wrote suite numbers for nonexistent suites, or did not write down a suite number, and others left their sign-out time blank. Brandt noted that a substantial number of these inaccuracies involved a period of time he contended the intruder must have entered the building.

Brandt concluded that the sign-in sheets from the evening of May 10, 1994, provided additional evidence McAlister was absent from his post. According to Brandt, because Safe Security did not have a field supervisor supervising McAlister and did not properly relieve him when necessary, Safe Security and its employee McAlister violated an industry standard for properly maintaining a security post.

Brandt acknowledged L.J. Sheridan determined the number of security guards Safe Security was to provide and the number of hours that guard was to work. It was L.J. Sheridan's decision not to have 24-hour security services. It was L.J. Sheridan's decision to have only one guard on duty from 5:00 p.m. to midnight, and midnight to 7:00 a.m.

Finally, Brandt opined, over Safe Security's objection, that because "the post was not properly manned[,] *** the violator or the offender, in this case, [had] an opportunity to go up to the suite unchallenged, and attack Ms. Friedman." Brandt further opined the intruder entered the building immediately before the assault. He found no evidence the intruder planned the assault; he believed it was a spontaneous attack.

On cross-examination Brandt agreed he had not "found any specific evidence about the time that this individual[, the intruder,] entered the building." Brandt said, "I don't know that there is specific evidence, but I think there are indications that he was there immediately -- obviously prior to the rape. I don't believe he was in the building all day, if that's what you're asking me."

Charles Saul, vice president of L.J. Sheridan & Co., was the property manager of the Garland building at the time of Friedman's assault. He testified for Friedman.

Saul testified that in 1991 L.J. Sheridan took over property management responsibilities for the Garland building from Hudson Park Management Company. The building had gone into receivership. Hudson Park Management Company originally hired Safe Security to provide a single security officer/guard to be stationed in the lobby of the Garland building during non-business hours, i.e., between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

When L.J. Sheridan took over management responsibilities of the Garland building, it continued the same contractual security service with Safe Security. Saul could not produce a copy of the contract for security services between L.J. Sheridan and Safe Security.

According to Saul, Safe Security, through its employees, acted as the security experts for the Garland building. He said Safe Security wrote the post orders that told the security guard how to perform his duties. L.J. Sheridan relied on Safe Security to supervise its guard and insure a reasonable level of security. Notwithstanding, Saul acknowledged that L.J. Sheridan "had the final say as to how much security [it was] willing to pay for in that building."

L.J. Sheridan chose not to contract with Safe Security to provide security service for the Garland building between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Instead, L.J. Sheridan used its own employee as an "elevator starter." Although the elevator starter was not a trained security guard, L.J. Sheridan expected its starter to meet and greet people, usher them into the elevator and, at the same time, screen out any undesirables.

There was no testimony from the elevator starter on duty during the day of May 10, 1994. We do not know whether that starter actually ...


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