(CN) - Carnival cannot sanction the teenager who admitted that cruise ship security never, as she initially claimed, made her remove a tampon in a search for drugs, a federal judge ruled.
J.G. had been a 17-year-old passenger on the Carnival cruise ship Sensation in 2011 when she dropped a container of what one security officer for the ship believed was marijuana.
She said the chief security officer ordered a search of her cabin for any other illegal substances, at which time a female security officer allegedly strip-searched J.G. and made her remove her underwear and tampon.
The case went to trial earlier this year after U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum found that J.G. could seek punitive damages.
Jurors nevertheless sided with Carnival on all counts, and Carnival went after teenager for sanctions based on the differences between what she said on the stand and what she said in advance of the five-day trial.
J.G. testified in the trial that she voluntarily took off her underwear and removed her tampon so the search "would be over with."
She also admitted that she lied in some parts of her written statement.
J.G.'s "lies not only caused Carnival to expend a significant amount of money defending itself against her frivolous claims, but they ultimately wasted this court's time, as well as the time of the jury," according to Carnival's motion.
The cruise ship operator also said that J.G.'s lawsuit "has jeopardized the careers and livelihood of Carnival's employees that have done nothing but discharge their duty in an exemplary fashion. Plaintiff would destroy their names and reputation all in an attempt to seek revenge against Carnival for disembarking her off the cruise for her own illegal conduct."
Rosenbaum refused Friday to impose sanctions on J.G., given her young age at the time of the incident, and subsequent actions to set the record straight.
"Under no circumstances does this court in any way excuse plaintiff's conduct," the 13-page opinion states. "In fact, the court condemns it in the strongest of terms. Nevertheless, the circumstances that plaintiff found herself in do provide some insight into how plaintiff's original version of events developed."
J.G. was 18 years old when she filed her lawsuit, but still very much under the influence of her mother, who encouraged her to pursue her legal claims, the judge found.
She has since "set the record straight regarding the facts that none of defendant's employees instructed her to remove her clothing or her tampon and that none of defendant's employees assaulted or battered her in any way," Rosenbaum wrote. "And she did this presumably with knowledge that her trial testimony would likely doom her case," Rosenbaum said.
Now a student at Madison College Police Academy, J.G. had learned through her studies the importance of telling the truth while under oath, according to the ruling.
"Precisely because of these types of character developments that we hope will occur when minors become adults, minors are not always expected to make decisions with the same level of maturity or understanding that our society demands from adults," Rosenbaum wrote. "Although the court does not on this basis excuse plaintiff's earlier actions in the case, the court finds these considerations relevant to the inquiry into whether plaintiff ultimately litigated this case in bad faith."
Given her actions to correct her earlier statements during her trial testimony, Rosenbaum declined to find her guilty of litigating in bad faith.
He also noted that J.G.'s inability to pay defendant's costs would make any award a "meaningless victory for defendant."
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