District court won’t enter judgment against Cuban government in sexual assault case

A district court judge has declined to enter default judgment against the Republic of Cuba on an Indiana woman’s claim against the foreign nation after finding members of the Cuban National Soccer Team were not acting within the scope of their employment for the country when they sexually assaulted her.

While vacationing at a resort in Jamaica at the same time as the Cuban soccer team, four of the players – Yoandir Puga Estevez, Tomas Cruz Rodriguez, Yordan Santa Cruz Vora and Jorge Luis Clavelo – entered a women’s restroom and took turns raping Robin Haston, who was in a locked stall. Haston’s boyfriend, Vic Hutchings, heard screaming and fought off the attackers, who later refused to provide DNA evidence in the case.

Estevez, Rodriguez, and Vora were eventually arrested, but according to a Thursday district court opinion, the Cuban government intervened and “compromised” the investigation. The players were released and allowed to return to Cuba in April 2015.

Meanwhile, Cuba refused to cooperate with the criminal investigation and failed to appear in the case of Robin Haston v. Republic of Cuba, 1:16-cv-615, prompting Haston to move for default judgment. However, Judge William T. Lawrence of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana wrote Thursday that he could not enter default judgment against the foreign country because he lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

Specifically, Lawrence said Haston’s claim under the terrorist exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act failed. That exception holds that the U.S. can assume jurisdiction over foreign states under certain circumstances related to terrorism.

Here, Lawrence said he assumed for purposes of the ruling that Haston proved two of those circumstances – the fact that she was a victim of an act of torture and that the Republic of Cuba was sufficiently designated as a sponsor of terrorism. However, Lawrence went on to say Haston failed to prove the third prong of the terrorism exception: that the players were acting within the scope of their employment with the Cuban government when they attacked her.

To support her position that the soccer players were acting within the scope of their employment, Haston relied on the Indiana Supreme Court case of Stropes by Taylor v. Heritage House Childrens Center of Shelbyville, Inc., 547 N.E.2d 244, 247 (1989). In Stropes, the Supreme Court reversed summary judgment to a child care center after one of its employees assaulted a mentally disabled 14-year-old while changing the victim’s bedding and clothes. Those acts were “unquestionably within the scope of (the employee’s) employment,” and the court ruled a jury should determine whether he was acting within that scope when he committed his crimes.

However, Stropes is distinguishable from the instant case because the defendant in Stropes was authorized to have physical contact with the victim, while the soccer players did not have authorization for physical contact with Haston, Lawrence wrote.

“…(A)lthough ‘the particular injury could not have occurred without the facilities afforded by the relation of the servant to (the) master,’ that is not sufficient to bring the attacks within the scope of the attackers’ employment,” he wrote, referring to the Republic of Cuba as the “master” in this context.

“The fact that the attackers’ presence at the resort, and therefore their access to Haston, was because of their employment is simply not sufficient to hold the Republic of Cuba liable for actions that bore no relationship to their job duties,” the judge continued. “Accordingly, the facts alleged by Haston cannot support a finding that her attackers were acting within the scope of their employment as soccer players when they assaulted her.”

The case was dismissed without prejudice.

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