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PARASKEVAIDES v. FOUR SEASONS

June 19, 2001

THLEMA G. PARASKEVAIDES, ET AL PLAINTIFFS,
V.
FOUR SEASONS, WASHINGTON DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. The plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment, requesting that the Court strike the defendant's affirmative defense under D.C.Code Ann. §§ 34-101, and find the defendant liable for the plaintiffs' damage. If the Court enters judgment in the plaintiffs' favor, the plaintiffs also request a brief trial on the quantum value of the property. The defendant's cross motion for summary judgment requests that the Court find that the defendant's statutory affirmative defense is fatal to the plaintiffs' common law claims. The Court will deny the plaintiffs' partial motion for summary judgment, and grant the defendant's summary judgment motion, finding the defendant not liable for the plaintiffs' property loss.

Background

A. Statutory and Common Law Scheme

There are two aspects of law at issue here, one common law, and one statutory. Under the common law doctrine of infra hospitium, an innkeeper is strictly liable for loss or damage to a guest's property. But, in the District of Columbia (hereinafter "DC"), as in many other jurisdictions, this common law doctrine has been limited and qualified by statutory enactment. In DC, the statutory limitation exists in the provision codified at D.C.Code Ann. §§ 34-101. In pertinent part, that statute reads that:

(a) If a hotel, motel, or similar establishment in the District of Columbia which provides lodging to transient guests: (1) provides a suitable depository (other than a checkroom) for the safekeeping of personal property (other than a motor vehicle); and (2) displays conspicuously in the guest and public rooms of that establishment a printed copy of this section (or summary thereof); that establishment shall not be liable for the loss or destruction of, or damage to, any personal property of a guest or patron not deposited for safekeeping, except that this sentence shall not apply with respect to the liability of that establishment for loss or destruction of, or damage to, any personal property retained by a guest in his room if the property is such property as is usual, common, or prudent for a guest to retain in his room. In the case of any personal property of a guest or patron deposited in such a depository for safekeeping, that establishment shall be liable for the loss or destruction of, or damage to, that property to the extent of the lesser of $1,000 or the fair market value of the property at the time of its loss, destruction, or damage.
(b) If a hotel, motel, or similar establishment in the District of Columbia which provides lodging to transient guests maintains a checkroom (conspicuously designated as such) where guests and patrons may deposit personal property, that establishment shall, if it conspicuously posts a printed copy of this section (or summary thereof), be liable for the loss or destruction of, or damage to, that property only to the extent of the lesser of $200 or the fair market value of the property at the time of its loss, destruction, or damage unless the destruction or damage is caused by its agent or servant.

B. Facts and Procedural History

The plaintiffs were guests at the defendant's hotel in Washington, DC. Upon arrival the plaintiffs placed and locked valuables in their room safe. The plaintiffs then proceeded to leave the room for the day. Upon their return, the plaintiffs found their room ransacked, their room safe broken into, and their valuables missing. The plaintiffs called hotel security and the DC metropolitan police, both of whom responded immediately. There was no sign of forced entry into the room safe.

The defendant seeks to disclaim liability, invoking D.C.Code Ann. §§ 34-101 as an affirmative defense. The plaintiffs seek to strike that defense, leaving the Court open to rule on the issue of liability, as requested in the plaintiffs' motion.

Analysis

A. Jurisdiction and Venue

This Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332, and venue pursuant to ...


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