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Retailer sues San Francisco mall owners over alleged failure to address 'rampant criminal activity'

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A clothing retailer in San Francisco's downtown mall, formerly known as the Westfield San Francisco Centre, filed a lawsuit this week against the former owners for allegedly failing to address the mall's "rampant criminal activity," first reported by the San Francisco Business Times.

Clothing retailer American Eagle accused Westfield of "allowing the mall to become a lightning rod for, in Westfield's words, 'rampant criminal activity.'"

American Eagle is seeking monetary damages for alleged "neglect."

The retailer's lawsuit alleged that Westfield invested $2 billion on upgrades at its other California malls while allowing the San Francisco location to "deteriorate into disarray."

According to the clothing retailer, Westfield allowed its employees to "suffer and respond to gun violence, physical assaults, burglaries, and robberies."

The complaint claimed that American Eagle employees reported more than 100 "significant security incidents" from May 2022 to May 2023. Those incidents involved "violence, aggressive guests, and thefts," the retailer stated.

"On multiple occasions, patrons have brandished firearms while verbally assaulting the store's employees. American Eagle employees have suffered multiple physical attacks and assaults. In one instance, a patron even threatened American Eagle staff with a machete," the lawsuit claimed.

According to American Eagle's lease agreement with Westfield, the mall's owners were obligated to maintain the common areas "at a level comparable to other regional shopping malls."

In response to the area's rampant crime, the retailer closed its street-facing entrance and significantly ramped up its security efforts. Despite the increased security investments, American Eagle claimed "patrons no longer feel safe because of Westfield's inaction, and American Eagle is bearing the brunt of Westfield's abandonment of its obligations."

The retailer further claimed that Westfield blamed the city instead of attempting to combat the spike in crime. Westfield has since relinquished ownership of the property to its lender.

Legal analyst Steven Clark told KGO-TV that American Eagle appears to be trying to get out of its lease agreement, which does not end until January 31, 2028.

"I think American Eagle's endgame here is to say we want out of our lease," Clark stated. "If American Eagle is allowed out of its lease based on the crime, the violence, the shoplifting, and the other problems at the mall, I think you'll see a lot of other retailers looking at this as a tool to say we want out as well."

In May, Nordstrom announced that it would be closing its anchor store location at the mall.

At the time, the company's chief stores officer, Jamie Nordstrom, said, "As many of you know, the dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market have changed dramatically over the past several years, impacting customer foot traffic to our stores and our ability to operate successfully."

While American Eagle's lawsuit did not mention wanting to break the lease agreement, Clark speculated, "Certainly, American Eagle doesn't want to be the last retail tenant at the mall. That could be a disaster financially, so I think because Nordstrom left and others have left, I think that's what American Eagle is saying. ... We don't want to wait until 2028 to leave, we want to leave now."

American Eagle declined to comment on the lawsuit, KGO reported. Westfield declined to comment, stating, "We have not been served the lawsuit."

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