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Duncan v. Celestine

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 9, 2019


         SECTION “F”



         Before the Court is Jazz Casino Company and Harrah's New Orleans Management Company's motion for summary judgment that they are not vicariously or primarily liable for an employee's alleged assault and battery. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED, in part, as to all claims against Harrah's New Orleans Management Company and the direct negligence claims against Jazz Casino Company, and DENIED, in part, as to the vicarious liability claim against Jazz Casino Company.


         A casino guest says a security guard sexually assaulted her at Harrah's New Orleans Casino. This lawsuit followed.

         It was summer 2017, the weekend of Essence Festival.[1] Shanta Duncan had travelled to New Orleans to attend. On her first night in town, she visited Harrah's Casino, hoping to catch a late-night concert at the Masquerade Nightclub. She was alone. Christopher Celestine was working security that night; it was his job to check identification and “engage” with patrons. He spotted Duncan in the tunnel entrance and struck up a conversation. He and Duncan disagree about what happened next.

         According to Duncan, Celestine offered her free concert tickets and asked her to step aside. She obliged. Now alone, Celestine asked Duncan “what [she] got on up under that dress, ” pulled her dress to the side, and placed his hand on her vagina. Duncan recoiled. Celestine responded that he “just want[ed] to see what was up under [Duncan's] dress.” Duncan left the casino but returned several hours later, hoping to obtain Celestine's name. She was unsuccessful: Celestine had flipped his nametag so that his name was not visible.

         Celestine tells a different story. He says he engaged Duncan in polite small talk, and he denies touching her vagina. He says he was “just making jokes” about her attire. Although surveillance footage shows his hand moving near Duncan's vagina, Celestine insists he was merely demonstrating how her dress came close to flunking the casino's dress code.

         The rest is undisputed. The day after the alleged incident, Duncan returned to the casino to file a report. She spoke with the casino's Director of Security, Stacey Dorsey, and gave a written statement. She filed a police report a few days later. Based on the report, the New Orleans Police Department Sex Crimes Unit issued a warrant for Celestine's arrest.[2]

         Jazz Casino Company owns Harrah's New Orleans Casino. It has twice hired and fired Celestine. It first hired him in August 2015, following a panel interview and a background check confirming he had no criminal record. It fired him nine months later, citing his “appearance of sleeping while on duty.” The termination provided, however, that Celestine was “eligible for re-hire” at any time.

         In May 2017, Jazz Casino Company re-hired Celestine as a security officer. It performed another background check, which again reflected that Celestine had no criminal record. The alleged assault and battery occurred two months later, on July 3, 2017, and Celestine's final day of work was the next day. Celestine was suspended and, in September 2017, fired.

         Before the alleged incident, Jazz Casino Company lacked information indicating that Celestine was prone to sexual misconduct: He had no criminal record; he had never been disciplined by any prior employer; and he had never been accused of sexual misconduct. To the contrary, he was a middle-aged single father of two children, ages eleven and ten. Jazz Casino had even provided him some sexual harassment training. But Celestine's supervisors noticed some unusual behavior on the day of the incident: He spent an "inordinate amount of time fraternizing” and, at “a couple of points, ” appeared to swap phone numbers with patrons.

         Invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction, Duncan sued Celestine, Jazz Casino Company, and Harrah's New Orleans Management Company.[3] She alleges negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery claims against Celestine. She says Jazz Casino Company and Harrah's New Orleans Management Company are vicariously liable for Celestine's torts and primarily liable for negligently hiring, supervising, and training him.

         Now, Jazz Casino Company and Harrah's New Orleans Management Company move for summary judgment that they are neither vicariously nor primarily liable in connection with Celestine's alleged assault and battery. Duncan opposes.


         Summary judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Id. at 248.

         If the non-movant will bear the burden of proof at trial, “the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial.” In re La. Crawfish Producers, 852 F.3d 456, 462 (5th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted).

         The Court emphasizes that the mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Nor do “[u]nsubstantiated assertions, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation[.]” Brown v. City of Houston, Tex., 337 F.3d 539, 541 (5th Cir. 2003). Ultimately, to avoid summary judgment, the non-movant “must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial.” LeMaire v. La. Dep't of Transp. & Dev., 480 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2007).

         In deciding whether a fact issue exists, the Court views the facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Midwest Feeders, Inc. v. Bank of Franklin, 886 F.3d 507, 513 (5th Cir. 2018). The Court “resolve[s] factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, ” but “only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence ...

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