By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida — If Jim and Muriel Sitton want the parents of Paul Merhige to pay for his murderous Thanksgiving 2009 rampage that left their 6-year-old daughter dead, the Jupiter couple is going to have to convince a higher court that they have a case.
For the second time this year, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Meenu Sasser has thrown out a lawsuit the Sittons filed against Michael and Carole Merhige. In the lawsuit, they claim the Miami couple set the stage for the shooting that claimed the lives of four relatives, including the Sittons’ daughter, Makayla and Muriel Sitton’s 76-year-old mother, Raymonde Joseph.
Sasser also rejected a similar lawsuit filed by Patrick Knight, who claims his former in-laws are responsible for the death of his pregnant wife, Lisa, who was also the Merhiges’ daughter. Lisa Knight, 33, and her twin, Carla Merhige, died when their mentally ill older brother opened fire at the family gathering at the Sittons’ home.
“While the facts of this case are incredibly tragic, the (Sittons) have not and cannot factually allege the existence of a legal duty under Florida law as it currently exists,” Sasser said in an 11-page ruling.
She had previously rejected Knight’s lawsuit. Unlike the Sittons, he elected not to amend his suit in hopes Sasser would change her mind if faced with new legal arguments. This month, she tossed both suits “with prejudice,” which paves the way for them to appeal.
Attorney Julie Littky-Rubin, who represents the Sittons, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. She has said the Sittons planned to appeal an unfavorable ruling and expected Knight’s attorney to do the same.
At a hearing last month, Littky-Rubin tried to surmount Sasser’s previous ruling that parents can’t be held responsible for the acts of their adult children. Despite Merhige’s mental ills, his parents weren’t his legal guardians.
In her new tack, Littky-Rubin argued that the Merhiges “created a risk of harm, by secretly inviting a known dangerous guest to someone else’s home.” But, Sasser ruled, even under that scenario, the Merhiges can’t be held responsible.
“(They) did not control the premises or firearms, and they had no legal right or ability to control the actions of their son,” Sasser wrote, citing three elements needed to hold someone responsible for the actions of another. She said she couldn’t stray from established law.
“While this court remains sensitive to the ‘egregiousness of these facts,’ and the tragedy that unfolded on that Thanksgiving Day, it is not the role of our trial courts to expand the law,” she wrote. “The expansion of the law must remain squarely in the hands of our duly elected legislators or for the appellate courts.”
Paul Merhige is currently serving seven consecutive life sentences.