LAKISHA SUTTON-WITHERSPOON, et al.
S.A.F.E. MANAGEMENT, INC., et al.
Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-16-000613
Wright, Berger, Leahy, JJ. [*]
celebrate their Super Bowl victory in 2013, the Baltimore
Ravens and the City of Baltimore held a victory parade on
Tuesday, February 5, 2013. The parade route ran from
Baltimore City Hall to M&T Bank Stadium, where fans were
invited to a free, unticketed event immediately following the
parade (the "Celebration"). The Celebration
featured Ravens team members, live entertainment, and
concessions and merchandise for sale.
gates to the stadium opened at 10:00 a.m., and the stadium
reached capacity before the parade even began. By 12:30 p.m.,
the parade was still making its way to the stadium with an
"unprecedented public crowd" following behind. The
fire marshal ordered the gates to the stadium closed, and the
Baltimore City Police Department responded by re-assigning
officers from the parade route to the stadium. The gates
remained unlocked in case of emergency.
the fans who arrived at the stadium following the parade were
Ms. Lakisha Sutton-Witherspoon and her eight-year-old son,
Nicholas Witherspoon (collectively, "Appellants").
While getting autographs from Ravens players and taking
pictures outside of the stadium, Ms. Sutton-Witherspoon heard
someone announce that the gate near her was open, even though
she had heard an announcement earlier from a helicopter that
the stadium was full. She took her son's hand and walked
toward the gate. As they walked, a crowd surged toward the
gate, knocking over and trampling Ms. Sutton-Witherspoon and
her son, injuring them both.
filed a negligence action in the Circuit Court for Baltimore
City against the Baltimore Ravens LP ("Ravens LP");
Maryland Stadium Authority ("MSA"), which owned the
stadium; and S.A.F.E. Management, Inc. ("SAFE"),
the Ravens crowd-control and guest-services contractor
(collectively, "Appellees"). The circuit court
granted summary judgment in favor of each of the Appellees,
finding that the facts did not give rise to an inference that
they had constructive notice of any dangerous conditions at
the stadium. Appellants noted a timely appeal, and present
the following questions for our review:
1. "Did the trial court improperly grant summary
judgment without consideration of Appellants' contention
that the Appellees' negligent security efforts allowed
the crowd surge to occur?"
2. "Did the trial court err in finding that appellants
failed to make a prima facie showing of
conclude that the circuit court, in granting the summary
judgments in the underlying case, failed to address
Appellants' alternative theory of negligence set out in
the complaint. The court did not resolve the allegation that
a crowd of the size that attended the stadium event was
reasonably foreseeable and could create a risk of the type of
harm suffered by Appellants, and that the Appellees failed to
undertake reasonable safety precautions to control the crowd
they invited to the stadium. Accordingly, we must reverse the
court's grants of summary judgment and remand the case.
Sutton-Witherspoon, her husband, and their three children
arrived in Baltimore City sometime between 10:00 and 10:30
a.m. on the day of the parade. After parking their car, they
proceeded to the corner of Light and Pratt Streets to await
the parade. Once the parade passed, they headed toward the
stadium and the parade convoy, walking west on Conway Street,
past Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Around the time they walked
past the warehouse at Camden Yards, Ms. Sutton-Witherspoon
heard a police helicopter overhead announce that the stadium
was full. This was the only time she heard an announcement
that the stadium was full.
Ms. Sutton-Witherspoon and her family arrived at the stadium,
the floats had stopped and the players were taking pictures
and signing autographs. The family got players'
autographs and took pictures of Ray Lewis for "more than
five minutes." As they did, the crowd grew "[a]
little bit" but "[n]ot tremendously." At some
point, Ms. Sutton-Witherspoon heard someone say "[t]his
gate is open, " referring to the gate near the floats
where she and her family stood. Nicholas testified that he
could see that the gate was open from where he stood.
Sutton-Witherspoon and her family began walking toward the
gate-which she remembered was either Gate C or D. She
recalled that other people were heading toward the gate as
well, but it "wasn't a tremendous amount of
people." She held Nicholas' hand as they walked at a
"very leisurely" pace. The gate they planned to
enter was open and there were "no turnstiles" or
anything, "[i]t was just an opening." Then, when
they got under the awning in front of the gate, she
"felt Nicholas get snatched out of [her] hand." She
"turned around to look, to see where he went,"
scanning the crowd, observing that there "was a lot of
people . . . all of a sudden." "[A] herd of people
 came out of nowhere," she said.
she looked down, she saw Nicholas on the ground with
"people walking over top of him." Nicholas said
that he was "pushed forward and knocked down" by
the crowd around him as people in the crowd began to run. He
explained that, after getting knocked down, "everything
went black. Everything was black, and it was a very small
space. And the very second after that, I started yelling for
my mom. I was very scared."
crowd knocked down Ms. Sutton-Witherspoon as well. She
described what happened next:
I tried to get up and it was just - people were just walking
on top of me. It was just a lot of people. And I just - I
couldn't get up. And then people started falling on top
of me. And then people were walking on top of the people that
were on top of me. I just felt feet and I was screaming and I
could just hear Nicholas screaming and it was just a lot of
related that she "was grabbing at people's ankles,
hoping someone would look down[, ]" but she
"eventually ran out of air and couldn't
breathe." "I think I passed out[, ]" she said,
"I just don't remember."
police dispersed the crowd with pepper spray. Ms.
Sutton-Witherspoon's husband found her and helped her up.
When she got to her feet she could not put weight on her
ankle; her pants, shoes, and socks had been torn off. Her
face burned from the pepper spray but she did not see any
police officers in the area. She looked back for Nicholas and
saw a stranger helping him to his feet. Ms.
Sutton-Witherspoon was given a wheelchair. Nicholas sat on
her lap, and the two were wheeled through the still-open
gates into the stadium, where they received treatment until
an ambulance came and took them to the hospital.
owns the stadium and, by a 30-year lease dated August 15,
1997, grants Ravens LP the exclusive right to use the stadium
for NFL games and related events. The lease grants Ravens LP
control and authority over decisions about "ticketing,
admissions, and gate operation," as well as "the
process for admitting attendees" to events at the
stadium. Despite earlier discussions with Baltimore City
officials, who preferred that the Ravens hold the event
between City Hall and the War Memorial Plaza as they did
after their Super Bowl win in 2001, Ravens LP decided to host
the Celebration at the stadium. Mr. Roy Sommerhof, Ravens
LP's Senior Vice President of Stadium Operations,
testified that he expressed his agreement with the Baltimore
City officials to senior officials within the Ravens
organization, but they decided to host the Celebration in the
stadium contrary to his advice. The dispute, it seems, hinged
at least in part on disparate predictions of crowd size.
According to Mr. Sommerhof, Ravens LP had "some real
deep discussion[s]" about not having the Celebration at
the stadium because there might only be 30, 000 attendees and
"there wouldn't be enough people to fill" the
70, 000-capacity stadium: "there was a real concern
among some leadership at the Ravens organization that we
would [not] have more than 30 or 35, 000 people, given that
it was a Tuesday in February - and you never know what the
weather is going to be - in the middle of a workday."
Personally, Mr. Sommerhof believed the 30, 000-35, 000
estimates were off and he expected there to be around 70, 000
guests. And although a few other members of the organization
shared his belief, he "was in the minority."
LP decided to make the Celebration free of charge and
unticketed, but offered concessions and merchandise for sale
and made the restrooms available to guests. It issued a press
release announcing the Celebration, which would begin at
approximately 12:30 p.m. at the stadium. The press release
further stated that "fans [we]re encouraged to attend a
celebration featuring the team and live entertainment."
Fans were permitted entrance to the stadium beginning at
deposition, Mr. Sommerhof testified that his crowd management
responsibilities were to "work with Maryland Stadium
Authority, [SAFE], and others, including the Baltimore City
Police Department, to develop plans for crowd management and
the safe operation of M&T Stadium for events and M&T
Stadium." He testified that he would develop these plans
"[u]sually for just about every event" that Ravens
LP has. On the day of a normal event, Ravens LP holds a
pregame meeting with all its partners (SAFE, the housekeeping
and concessions contractors, MSA, the Baltimore Police
Department, and the Baltimore City Fire Department) at the
stadium, at which point Ravens LP informs SAFE of the posts
of police officers during the event. There was no meeting in
advance of the parade and Celebration, however. And, of
relevance to this appeal, Mr. Sommerhof testified that Ravens
LP had no plan in place for what would happen if the stadium
reached maximum capacity on the day of the Celebration.
there was no meeting, there was a call between SAFE and
Ravens LP, during which time the two entities agreed that
there would be no need for ticket scanners or bag checks.
SAFE, Ravens LP's "crowd control and guest services
contractor," provides "event management functions
and security functions" for M&T Bank Stadium and the
Baltimore Ravens on game days. SAFE's tasks, under the
general umbrella of "event management," include
"usher[ing], ticket taking and scanning, and security at
certain locations throughout the building." Because SAFE
would not need the employees who scan tickets and check bags
for the Celebration, it reduced its staffing, including
supervisors, below the normal game-day level.
normal game day, for instance, SAFE would have five
supervisors at Gate A, but on the day of the Celebration
those five supervisors were not scheduled to work. The
supervisors for Gates B, C, and D were not present either
and, according to SAFE's Director of Operations, Mr. Joe
Parr, any employees who would have been assigned to scan
tickets were also absent. Additionally, on normal game days,
SAFE erects "bike rack-type installations" at each
gate prior to the games to help people form a line while they
are entering the stadium. Mr. Sommerhof said it does this
"in order to try to keep people in some semblance of
order when they're getting to the gate area, so that we
can scan their tickets, provide entry to them, we put them in
kind of queue lines." The use of the installations, he
explained, is derived from "the requirements through
best Practices for Stadium Security." But because there
were no tickets to scan, "there was no need for [the
Parr testified that SAFE and Ravens LP shared the
responsibility for establishing the number of SAFE employees
who would work at the various events at the stadium. But,
according to Mr. Parr, the responsibility for posting police
officers as ...