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Judge allows lawsuits against cinema owner in Colorado massacre

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A federal judge has again refused to dismiss wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed against a movie theater chain by victims of a 2012 mass shooting at a Colorado cinema where 12 people were killed and dozens injured.

U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson on Friday rejected a motion for summary judgment filed by lawyers for Texas-based Cinemark USA to dismiss the lawsuits.

Nearly 30 victims or the families of those killed or wounded in the rampage have sued Cinemark, owner of the theater complex where the massacre took place.

In general, the lawsuits claim Cinemark had lax security at its theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora when a gunman opened fired during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

Jackson issued a similar ruling in April 2013 when lawyers for Cinemark argued that theater employees could not have anticipated having to deal with "a madman's mass murder."

"It would be patently unfair, and legally unsound, to impose on Cinemark, a private business in the entertainment industry, the duty and burden to have foreseen and prevented the criminal equivalent of a meteor falling from the sky," the motion by Cinemark's lawyers said.

The accused gunman, James Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and is set to go on trial in December.

Cinemark, owned by Cinemark Holdings Inc, renewed its bid to have the case tossed, arguing that the plaintiffs have not developed enough facts to justify a trial, a notion that Jackson rejected.

Jackson noted that 80 of Cinemark's 300 theaters did hire off-duty police or private security firms for the midnight viewing of the Batman movie, but the Aurora theater chose not to.

Jackson stressed  in his opinion that he was not ruling on the merits of the case, merely that the issue should be left up to a jury to decide.

"I reiterate that this Court is in no way holding as a matter of law that Cinemark should have known of the danger of someone entering one of its theaters through the back door and randomly shooting innocent patrons," Jackson wrote. 

"A genuine fact dispute must be resolved by the trier of fact, not by a court's granting summary judgment."

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)

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