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YORK v. COMMODORE CRUISE LINE

September 16, 1994

DEBORAH L. YORK and BANTA M. YORK II, Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMODORE CRUISE LINE, LTD. and OLYMPIA CARIBBEAN SHIPPING CO. INC. in personam, and M/S CARIBE I, its engines, boilers, tackle, etc., in rem, Defendants. MARY L. GIFFIN and JAMES GIFFIN, Plaintiffs, v. COMMODORE CRUISE LINE, LTD. and OLYMPIA CARIBBEAN SHIPPING CO. INC. in personam, and M/S CARIBE I, its engines, boilers, tackle, etc., in rem, Defendants.


CONNER


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM C. CONNER

CONNER, D.J.:

 Plaintiffs Deborah York and Mary L. Giffin and their respective husbands bring this tort action against Commodore Cruise Line, Limited ("Commodore"), which owns the cruise ship CARIBE I, and Olympia Caribbean Shipping Co., Inc. ("Olympia"), which operates CARIBE I. Mrs. York claims that she was raped or sexually assaulted by her cabin steward while she was a passenger aboard CARIBE I; Mrs. Giffin alleges that she was verbally harassed by the same employee on the same date. Plaintiffs contend that their injuries were caused by defendants' failure to install adequate locking devices on the doors to their passenger cabins. In addition, Mrs. York and Mrs. Giffin claim that defendants were negligent in handling their complaints and that such conduct also constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Both husbands, Mr. Banta M. York III and Mr. James Giffin, sue for loss of consortium and society.

 This Court conducted a four-day bench trial commencing on April 11, 1994 and concluding on April 14, 1994. This opinion constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 52(a), Fed. R. Civ. P. For reasons explained therein, we enter judgment in favor of defendants on all claims.

 BACKGROUND

 All four plaintiffs were passengers on the cruise ship CARIBE I in July, 1991. The Yorks were assigned to cabin B-35 which contained two single beds spaced approximately five feet apart with a desk between them. T.10-11, 108. The Giffins were assigned to cabin B-33, which is next to B-35 and has a similar room plan. T.9, 431.

 Both cabins have the same locking devices on their doors. The lock is activated by turning a lever which is situated next to the doorknob on the inside of the door. This lock can be opened from the outside with a passkey. Each cabin steward is responsible for cleaning a certain number of cabins and is given a passkey for such cabins. There is no additional locking device, such as a security chain, that cannot be opened from the outside; hence, regardless of whether the passengers are in or out of their cabins, their assigned cabin stewards have access to their rooms with a passkey.

 On the morning of July 24, 1991, while the ship was berthed at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, plaintiffs left the ship to take a catamaran excursion to St. John. T.16. After snorkeling, plaintiffs consumed several "rum punches," T.17, and both Mrs. York and Mrs. Giffin became intoxicated. T.101, 434.

 Upon returning to her cabin, Mrs. York became ill, showered, and had sexual intercourse with Mr. York. T.20. The couple then went to sleep in their respective beds at approximately 1:30 P.M. T.21. Mr. York remembers locking the cabin door after entering the room. T.174.

 Mrs. York testified that shortly thereafter, she was awakened by someone partly on top of her trying to force himself between her legs. T.22. Mrs. York could not see who this person was as there was no light in the room. T.22. Although she never cried out for help, she did say "ouch," at which point the intruder got up and left the room. T.22, 23. Because the hallway outside the cabin was lighted, Mrs. York was able to see a profile of the intruder as he exited; she identified him as a tall, black man with short hair wearing clothing that resembled a cabin steward's uniform. T.23. She was not able to see his face. T.95. She assumed he was the cabin steward assigned to her room, David Neish.

 Mrs. York testified that she "has no knowledge" of what occurred prior to her saying "ouch" because she was asleep. T.117. Hence she is not sure whether the intruder penetrated her. T.117. She testified that after the intruder left the room, she examined herself and observed what appeared to be semen on her legs and a wet spot on the sheet toward the end of her bed. T.27.

 Mr. York also was asleep during the events at issue, but was awakened by Mrs. York's "ouch." T.175. Mr. York testified that he sat up in bed, noticed movement in Mrs. York's bed and, in the darkness, faintly saw a man stand up near the foot of her bed. T.176. This man then exited the cabin, closing the door behind him, at which point Mr. York ran to the door and looked in the hallway but did not see anyone. T.26, 178. Mr. York did not chase the intruder beyond his cabin because he was undressed. T.178.

 An examination of Mrs. York by the ship's doctor that evening did not reveal any evidence of sexual assault or forced penetration; nor did a subsequent examination by a doctor in Miami reveal any evidence of assault. DNA analysis of the semen showed that it was not compatible with blood samples taken from Mr. Neish. T.126, 127, 139, 140.

 Meanwhile, Mrs. Giffin testified that upon returning to her cabin from the catamaran excursion, she also was intoxicated and became ill; Mr. Giffin did not remain in the cabin with her. T.434, 438. She testified that while she was in the bathroom vomiting, a man dressed as a cabin steward entered her cabin, placed towels at the end of her bed, and then left the cabin. T.434-35. Shortly thereafter, she went to sleep but was awakened when she heard someone opening her ...


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