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Iron Order Motorcycle Club- Club Shouldn’t Face Liability in $10M Fatal Bar Brawl, Judge Says. Another win for clubs

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By Max Mitchell

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Kenneth Powell issued a 32-page opinion last week outlining his reasoning for granting compulsory non-suit to the Iron Order Motorcycle Club, which had been facing liability in connection with the 2015 bar brawl that left Tonya M. Focht dead

A Pennsylvania judge is defending his finding that a nationwide motorcycle club should not have faced liability over a fatal bar brawl that led to a nearly $10 million verdict last year.

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Kenneth Powell issued a 32-page opinion last week outlining his reasoning for granting compulsory non-suit to the Iron Order Motorcycle Club, which had been facing liability in connection with the 2015 bar brawl that left Tonya M. Focht dead. Powell’s decision to let the club out of the case Bollinger v. Iron Order Motorcycle Club is currently on appeal to the state Superior Court.

Although Focht’s estate, which had sued several Iron Order Motorcycle Club members involved in the fatal fight, contended that those defendants were acting as agents of the nationwide club, Powell said the plaintiff was ”mak[ing] mountains of molehills” when it came to the connections between the national club and the members who participated in the fight.

“This court could not allow appellant to twist and contort the meager facts of this case so that she could summon a reckoning day for motorcycle clubs, which is what she sought to do,” Powell said. “This is a case about a bar fight, involving a group of individuals acting alone, based purely on personal animosity towards each other, and nothing more.”

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According to court records, including the pretrial memo of Brenda Bollinger, who is the administrator of Focht’s estate, the fatal brawl took place June 19, 2015, when Focht and her fiance arrived at Anna’s Bar-B-Q Pit near Reading to meet friends for dinner. Several members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club began to accost them verbally and physically, court papers said. Although the two attempted to leave, the members followed them into the restaurant’s parking lot where the conflict escalated, according to court papers.

Court papers said Focht’s fiance was wrestled to the ground where the members of the club began to “pummel” him. Focht tried to help her fiance, but one of the club members named Timothy Martin allegedly punched her in the face, which knocked her backward and into the side of a moving SUV, court papers said. According to court papers, the vehicle crushed Focht’s skull.

Focht’s estate sued the restaurant on alleged negligence and dram shop violations. It also sued the Iron Order Motorcycle Club and several members of the club involved in the fight on claims that they were negligent and reckless. The plaintiff also made wrongful death and survivorship claims.

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In July, a Philadelphia jury awarded $9.7 million to Focht’s estate, but midway through the trial, Powell granted the motorcycle club’s motion for compulsory non-suit.

In contesting Powell’s decision, Focht’s estate noted that Martin was a sergeant at arms for the club, that the national club provided legal counsel, and that the club provided training to its members on tactical responses.

However, Powell said that evidence showed a strong division between the national and local chapters, including having separate bank accounts and paying separate taxes. He also said the training was done on the local level, the local chapter makes decisions about who becomes a member, the local chapters investigate potential members for suitability, and Martin did not hold any position in the national organization.

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Powell added that some of the evidence the plaintiff sought to introduce contained “lurid material” and had “pugilistic language,” and also noted that the parties involved in the fight knew each other, including Focht’s fiance, who testified that his ex-wife had had an affair with one of the people involved in the fight.

“With all of this personal baggage and animus between this group of people, it is difficult for this court to surmise how appellant believes this case represents anything more than personal bar fight that escalated,” Powell said.

However, Powell said that evidence showed a strong division between the national and local chapters, including having separate bank accounts and paying separate taxes. He also said the training was done on the local level, the local chapter makes decisions about who becomes a member, the local chapters investigate potential members for suitability, and Martin did not hold any position in the national organization.

Powell added that some of the evidence the plaintiff sought to introduce contained “lurid material” and had “pugilistic language,” and also noted that the parties involved in the fight knew each other, including Focht’s fiance, who testified that his ex-wife had had an affair with one of the people involved in the fight.

“With all of this personal baggage and animus between this group of people, it is difficult for this court to surmise how appellant believes this case represents anything more than personal bar fight that escalated,” Powell said.

Plaintiff’s counsel, Slade McLaughlin of McLaughlin & Lauricella, however, said Monday he thought the issue was one the jury should have been allowed to consider. McLaughlin said Powell barred him from introducing evidence of other violent acts allegedly perpetrated by other Iron Order chapters and writings that he said indicated the national club was promoting a culture of violence.

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“Judge Powell said the language was lurid and pugilistic, but that’s too kind of a description. The pugilistic language is really egregious,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a very violent code of conduct. A very unforgiving code of conduct and something the members are supposed to follow… It’s no coincidence. They’re controlled from above.”

McLaughlin added that he thought arguments that the fight was simply a bar brawl could have been made by the organization at trial, but Powell should have allowed him to introduce the evidence.

Counsel for the motorcycle club, Brian Grady of Elliott Greenleaf, said it is “definitively” a “law abiding club.” The writings the plaintiff sought to produce, he said, are about the conduct of other, so-called “outlaw” motorcycle clubs that may seek to clash with law abiding clubs, like the Iron Order.

Powell, Grady said, “got it absolutely right.”

“Judge Powell painstakingly listened to all of the evidence and very thoroughly and thoughtfully made the correct legal decision,” Grady said.

Source: .law.com

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2 comments

  1. FTIOMC – out of order cops hiding behind their badges…. okay, a win for all MC’s, but hammer those individuals, just like individuals in other clubs get hammered…………

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