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Court upholds summary judgment for Ritz-Carlton hotel

A Missouri appeals court has affirmed a ruling throwing out a suit against The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis hotel in Clayton, which alleged the hotel failed to prevent a man from entering the wrong room and getting into bed with a child.

On May 12, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District sided with the hotel in a suit brought by Daniel T. Hughes, a Pennsylvania man who in 2011 was staying at the hotel while in town for a business meeting.

According to the ruling, written by Judge Lisa P. Page, Hughes, while intoxicated, requested a room key replacement but gave the wrong room number to the hotel clerk in the early morning hours of March 6, 2011. After he was unable to use the key card to enter a room that wasn’t his, he forcibly broke into the room, got into bed with a sleeping 9-year-old girl and initiated inappropriate physical conduct with her.

Her parents, who were sleeping in the other bed, confronted Hughes and kicked him out of the room, Page said. He was eventually arrested and charged with four counts of lewd and lascivious behavior. Following the incident, he was terminated from his job.

In 2014, a jury acquitted Hughes of the criminal charges. That same year, he settled a civil suit the girl brought against him for $50,000, and the hotel settled with the girl for an undisclosed amount.

He filed suit against the Ritz and its owner, Maritz, Wolff & Co. LLC, in 2018 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, alleging the hotel breached its duty to him as a guest by failing to protect him, resulting in his termination and damages.

According to Page, the hotel filed a motion for summary judgment and a statement of uncontroverted facts, and Hughes failed to timely respond to each paragraph of the stated facts.

Hughes filed a motion for more time to respond and attached a proposed response, but the proposed response did not deny any of the uncontroverted facts.

Judge Ellen H. Ribaudo did not rule on Hughes’ motion, but she noted she’d considered it before granting summary judgment to the defendants. Hughes’ appeal followed, raising four points.

Page said that the panel need not address each point individually “because the summary judgment record is clear that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff’s negligence claim against them based upon the undisputed facts.”

To show negligence, Hughes was required to prove that the hotel had a duty to protect him from injury, that it failed to exercise its duty and that its failure resulted in damage to him, she said.

While generally businesses do not owe a duty to protect invitees, one exception exists for the innkeeper-guest relationship, Page said.

Such a duty must be premised upon foreseeable harm that can occur to the guest, she said. Recounting the undisputed facts, Page said nothing in the summary judgment record shows the defendants could have anticipated his behavior.

“Thus, the undisputed facts show no duty existed,” she said. “As a result, Plaintiff failed to establish a necessary element of his negligence claim, and summary judgment in favor of Defendants was proper.”

Judges Philip M. Hess and Kurt S. Odenwald agreed.

Michael Rowan of Brentwood, Tennessee represented Hughes. He did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

John G. Schultz of Franke Schultz & Mullen in Kansas City represented the hotel. He declined to comment.

The case is Hughes v. Maritz, Wolff & Co. LLC et al., ED108077.