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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Punitive Damages OK’d After Cruise Strip Search

(CN) - A 17-year-old girl who was strip searched, including a cavity check, on a Carnival cruise ship after dropping what looked like marijuana may seek punitive damages, a federal judge ruled.

In 2011, J.G. was a 17-year-old passenger on the Carnival cruise ship Sensation, when she dropped a container of what appeared to one of the ship's security officers to be marijuana.

The chief security officer ordered a search of J.G.'s cabin for any other illegal substances, during which a female security officer strip searched J.G. and made her remove her underwear and tampon.

It is unclear whether the female security officer was expressly directed by anyone to perform the alleged strip search.

U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum upheld J.G.'s claim for punitive damages on Monday, finding that Carnival gave the court no way to "evaluate the level of discretion that Carnival has granted to its security employees in conducting searches of or otherwise dealing with passengers who possess illegal drugs onboard ship."

An employer may only be held liable for punitive damages based on an employee's actions if the employee was working in a managerial capacity.

Carnival argued that the searching officers were front-line employees without managerial authority, but "the fact that these officers 'follow directives and protocol from their supervisors,' does not necessarily mean that they could not also possess the discretion to ultimately determine Carnival's strip search policy," Rosenbaum said.

Carnival does not have an affirmative policy authorizing or prohibiting strip searches. However, "arguing that the lack of an affirmative strip-search policy means strip searches are not authorized requires drawing an inference in favor of defendant - something that is improper on a motion for summary judgment," the judge found.

In a separate opinion, Rosenbaum denied J.G.'s motion to preclude the testimony of Carnival's expert witness, Wayne Black. Black has 40 years of law enforcement experience, and owns his own security firm, but has not trained cruise-ship security personnel.

The judge found Black's credentials sufficient to qualify as an expert: "Plaintiff has not shown that cruise-ship security is so vastly unrelated to security in other areas as to render Black's expertise inapplicable and negate his qualifications as an expert in this case. The extent of Black's unfamiliarity with cruise ships goes, instead, to the weight and credibility of his testimony and is, therefore, appropriately a subject for plaintiff's vigorous cross examination at trial."

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