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K.T. v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 24, 2019

K.T., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES, LTD., Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court No. 1:16-cv-25157-KMM for the Southern District of Florida

          Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, ROSENBAUM, and HULL, Circuit Judges.

          ED CARNES, CHIEF JUDGE

         According to the complaint in this case, on the day after Christmas in 2015, K.T. embarked on a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise with her two sisters and her grandparents. She was a minor at the time.[1] She alleges that on the first night of the cruise, a group of nearly a dozen adult male passengers bought multiple alcoholic beverages for her in a public lounge and other public areas of the ship. They plied her with enough alcohol that she became "highly intoxicated," "obviously drunk, disoriented, and unstable," and "obviously incapacitated." The group of nearly a dozen men then steered her "to a cabin where they brutally assaulted and gang raped her."

         She also alleges that everything (other than the assault and gang rape) happened in the view of multiple Royal Caribbean crewmembers, including those responsible for monitoring the ship's security cameras. But Royal Caribbean's crewmembers allegedly did nothing to stop the group of adult male passengers from buying alcohol for K.T., from getting her drunk, or from leading her away to a cabin while she was incapacitated. They allegedly did nothing to protect or help her.

         K.T. sued Royal Caribbean and the district court dismissed her lawsuit under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim. This is her appeal.

         I.

         This Court "review[s] de novo the district court's grant of a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim." Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach Cty., 685 F.3d 1261, 1265 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted). When doing that, "we accept the factual allegations supporting a claim as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant." Newton v. Duke Energy Fla., LLC, 895 F.3d 1270, 1275 (11th Cir. 2018). To get past a motion to dismiss, "[t]he plaintiff's [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Butler, 685 F.3d at 1265 (second alteration in original) (quotation marks omitted). Stated a bit differently, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         The operative complaint[2] included more claims, but the only ones relevant to this appeal are for Royal Caribbean's negligence, both in failing to warn passengers and prospective passengers of the danger of sexual assault on a cruise ship, and in failing to take action to prevent the physical assault, including the sexual assault, that K.T. suffered. The district court found that K.T.'s negligence claims against Royal Caribbean failed because they did not sufficiently allege that Royal Caribbean breached its duty of care or that any breach proximately caused her injuries. Reviewing the matter anew, as we must, we conclude otherwise.

         II.

         "In analyzing a maritime tort case, we rely on general principles of negligence law." Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1336 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).[3] "To plead negligence, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular injury; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the breach actually and proximately caused the plaintiff's injury; and (4) the plaintiff suffered actual harm." Id. "Determination of negligence tends to be a fact-intensive inquiry highly dependent upon the given circumstances." Souran v. Travlers Ins. Co., 982 F.2d 1497, 1506 (11th Cir. 1993).

         K.T. has sufficiently alleged that she suffered actual harm. And the parties agree that Royal Caribbean owed K.T. a duty of "ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances, a standard which requires, as a prerequisite to imposing liability, that the carrier have had actual or constructive notice of the risk-creating condition, at least where, as here, the menace is one commonly encountered on land and not clearly linked to nautical adventure." Keefe v. Bahama Cruise Line, Inc., 867 F.2d 1318, 1322 (11th Cir. 1989); see also Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 630, 79 S.Ct. 406, 409 (1959) ("[A] shipowner owes the duty of exercising reasonable care towards those lawfully aboard the vessel who are not members of the crew."); Guevara v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 920 F.3d 710, 720 (11th Cir. 2019) ("In this circumstance, a cruise ship operator's liability hinges on whether it knew or should have known about the dangerous condition.") (quotation marks omitted). The scope of Royal Caribbean's duty to protect its passengers is informed, if not defined, by its knowledge of the dangers they face onboard. And it allegedly knew a lot.

         The allegations are that Royal Caribbean "had experienced and had actual knowledge of . . . assaults and batteries and sexual crimes, and other violence between passengers and between passengers and crew," and "anticipated and foresaw that crimes would be perpetrated on passengers aboard its vessels." Not only that but Royal Caribbean also allegedly "had experienced and had actual knowledge of minors wrongfully being provided with or allowed to gain access to alcohol, and then becoming the victim of assaults and batteries and sexual crimes, perpetrated aboard its vessels both by crew and by other passengers." It allegedly "knew or should have known, that the high risk to its passengers of crime and injury aboard the vessels was enhanced by [its] sale of copious quantities of alcohol on its vessels," and "knew or should have known of the need to prevent minors wrongfully being provided with or allowed to gain access to alcohol, both by crew and by other passengers."

         Those allegations, which we must accept as true for present purposes, are enough to establish that the danger of sexual assault in general and of sexual assault on minors in particular was foreseeable, and indeed was known, to Royal Caribbean. And that foreseeable and known danger imposed on Royal Caribbean and its crew a duty of ordinary reasonable care, which included the duty to monitor and regulate the behavior of its passengers, especially where minors are involved.

         The allegations are that Royal Caribbean and its crew breached that duty by failing to: "adequately monitor the public areas" of its ship; "promulgate and/or enforce adequate policies and/or procedures to prevent alcohol being served to minors"; "promulgate and/or enforce adequate policies and/or procedures to prevent sexual assaults on minors aboard [its] ships"; and "intervene to prevent the service of alcohol to a minor and/or to assist an obviously intoxicated minor, when a reasonable and prudent crewmember would have taken action." The complaint alleges that Royal Caribbean already "had experienced and had actual knowledge of minors wrongfully being provided with or allowed to gain access to alcohol, and then becoming the victim of assaults and batteries and sexual crimes, perpetrated aboard its vessels . . . by other passengers." And Royal Caribbean allegedly "knew . . . from previous experience[] that the risk of crime and injury against passengers aboard its vessels tended to be greatest in passenger cabins and in bars."

         The complaint also alleges that K.T. was a minor on the day in question, so the duty of ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances required Royal Caribbean's crewmembers to do more than simply refuse to sell alcoholic beverages to her directly; the duty also required that they refuse to sell alcoholic beverages to any adult male passengers they knew were "purchas[ing] multiple alcoholic beverages" for K.T. And it certainly required that crewmembers intervene when they saw a group of nearly a dozen men steering a "highly intoxicated," "obviously drunk, disoriented," "unstable," and "obviously incapacitated" girl to a private cabin. Even though that allegedly happened "[i]n view of multiple crewmembers and still under surveillance by the ship's security cameras," no crewmember did anything to help K.T. as she was led away.

         In sum, the complaint has sufficiently alleged that because Royal Caribbean's crewmembers did nothing to prevent the large group of men from plying K.T. with enough alcohol to incapacitate her and did nothing to stop those men from leading her away to a private cabin, Royal Caribbean breached the duty of ordinary care it owed her. And it is self-evident from the allegations of the complaint that but for Royal Caribbean's breach of its duties of care to K.T. she would not have been brutalized and gang raped. If the allegations are true, Royal Caribbean proximately caused the alleged injuries. The complaint states a claim against Royal Caribbean.

         Royal Caribbean protests that allowing liability for its alleged failures would effectively impose strict liability for harm passengers suffer aboard its ships and would make cruise lines insurers of their passengers. We recognize that "[a] carrier by sea . . . is not liable to passengers as an insurer." Kornberg v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 741 F.2d 1332, 1334 (11th Cir. 1984). But we are not talking about strict liability. We are talking about negligence in failing to act to prevent a foreseeable or known danger. If K.T. can prove the allegations in her complaint, Royal Caribbean is liable for its negligence and that of its crew.

         III.

         We turn now to K.T.'s second theory of negligence, which is based on the claimed failure of Royal Caribbean to warn K.T. and her grandparents of known dangers. "A defendant's failure to warn [a] plaintiff does not breach" the duty of reasonable care under federal maritime law "unless the resultant harm is reasonably foreseeable." Daigle v. Point Landing, Inc., 616 F.2d 825, 827 (5th Cir. 1980). "Liability for a failure to warn thus arises from foreseeability, or the knowledge that particular conduct will create danger." Id.

         We have held that a cruise line's duty of "ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances" includes a "duty to warn of known dangers beyond the point of debarkation in places where passengers are invited or reasonably expected to visit." Chaparro, 693 F.3d at 1336 (quotation marks omitted). If a cruise line owes its passengers a "duty to warn of known dangers" at excursion destinations, id. - areas over which it usually has little (if any) control - a cruise line certainly owes its passengers a "duty to warn of known dangers" aboard its ship. See Keefe v. Bahama Cruise Line, Inc., 867 F.2d 1318, 1322 (11th Cir. 1989).

         The allegations in the complaint demonstrate that Royal Caribbean must have known about the dangers of sexual assaults aboard its ships. See supra pp. 5- 6. They are that Royal Caribbean: "anticipated and foresaw that crimes would be perpetrated on passengers aboard its vessels;" "knew, or should have known, that the high risk to its passengers of crime and injury aboard the vessels was enhanced by [its] sale of copious quantities of alcohol on its vessels;" and "knew, or should have known of the need to prevent minors wrongfully being provided with or allowed to gain access to alcohol, both by crew and by other passengers." So Royal ...


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