Brothers awarded $450,000 after Top Deck trial
Jurors determined the owner of the bar's property and an unidentified third-party were liable for damages
FARMINGTON — Two brothers were awarded about $450,000 in damages this afternoon on claims they were beat up in 2012 by staff at the Top Deck bar.
Susan Douglas, who owns the bar's property at 515 E. Main St. in Farmington, was ordered to pay $207,082 in punitive damages and $24,296 in actual damages after a 12-person jury determined she failed to take ordinary care to ensure the safety of brothers Dustin Curley and Justin Curley at the bar.
After the three-day trial, the jury went into deliberations Thursday afternoon. They returned a verdict after about nine hours of deliberation.
The Curley brothers filed a lawsuit in 2012 alleging they were beat up at Top Deck on St. Patrick's Day that year. The brothers, who are both Navajo, claimed in their civil complaint that Top Deck staff allowed an atmosphere of lawlessness and racial discrimination at the bar, which contributed to the fight.
More than two-thirds of the damages the jury awarded were to Dustin Curley, who lost vision in his right eye due to the fight.
Douglas' attorney, Emet Rudolfo, said the property owner was grateful the jury did not make an emotional decision but remained guided by facts.
"She respects the jury and the process, and she is relieved that they didn't just get caught up on issues that were not relevant," Rudolfo said of his client.
Rudolfo said the amount awarded in damages was less than the plaintiffs demanded in their last settlement offer, but he declined to specify how much they demanded.
Former Top Deck bouncer Tyler Black and bar manager Matt Douglas, Susan Douglas' son, were both found not liable on all counts, including civil battery, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.
Ex-bouncers Drew Jackson and Dustin Jacobs were found liable by default for civil battery due to their failure to appear at trial this week. However, the jury did not order Jackson and Jacobs to pay damages as part of their judgment.
The jury determined an unidentified third-party was liable for an additional $218,668 in actual damages that is due to the brothers.
The bailiff told The Daily Times the jurors declined to answer media questions about the verdict.
But plaintiffs' attorneys Christian Hatfield and Mitch Burns said the third-party the jurors likely had in mind was Top Deck's corporate owner, Susan Inc.
Susan Inc. is a New Mexico corporation owned by Susan Douglas. Susan Inc. was named a defendant in the Curley brothers' lawsuit, but plaintiffs dismissed the corporation after it filed for bankruptcy in March.
Burns explained Friday that the bankruptcy filing would have halted civil proceedings unless the corporation was dismissed from the suit.
"However, we have since learned that their bankruptcy was dismissed, so we anticipate filing a motion to vacate dismissal and continue proceedings against the Top Deck entity," Burns said.
Burns said that would mean a new trial with the corporation as the sole defendant.
On April 1, a federal bankruptcy judge dismissed Susan Inc.'s bankruptcy filing after the U.S. Trustee for the District of New Mexico complained the corporation had not insured its assets, which is required by the federal government, according to court records.
Still, Burns touted the jury's almost half-million dollar verdict as a success for his clients.
"Hopefully, this will teach the other night clubs and establishments in this county that you are not going to physically beat up patrons and run a 'road house' bar," he said.
Chad Ambrose, a 32-year-old alternate juror, told The Daily Times on Thursday that he felt Black was liable for punching Dustin Curley during the St. Patrick's Day fracas. But he said he felt Matt and Susan Douglas and Top Deck were ultimately responsible for failing to protect patrons.
"If the training was in place, I don't think any of this would have happened," Ambrose said.
Black admitted in testimony Tuesday that he punched Dustin Curley, but claimed it was done in self-defense. Black also testified he was never trained as a bouncer, and staff sometimes used "extreme" violence in altercations with patrons.
He further claimed Matt Douglas used a racial slur in reference to Native Americans, and staff were more likely to turn away Native Americans patrons at the door than white patrons.
On Wednesday, Matt Douglas denied charges of racial discrimination at the bar, but he admitted the bouncers were not trained on how to handle altercations.
Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.