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Castro v. Pullmantur, S.A.

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

June 7, 2017

Miguel Antonio Alvarado Castro, Appellant,
v.
Pullmantur, S.A., Pullmantur Cruises, S.L., Pullmantur Cruises Sovereign, a foreign corporation, and Pullmantur Ship Management Ltd., Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 14-21552 Monica Gordo, Judge.

          Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., and Michael A. Winkleman, for appellant.

          Horr, Novak & Skipp, P.A., David J. Horr, and Stephanie H. Wylie, for appellees.

          Before SUAREZ, C.J., and LAGOA and LUCK, JJ.

          LUCK, J.

         This case is about where a cabin steward on a cruise ship, Miguel Antonio Alvarado Castro, gets to bring a personal injury lawsuit against his employer under the Jones Act. Castro filed his claims in the Miami-Dade County circuit court. The cruise ship company, Pullmantur, S.A., and its related entities moved to dismiss because of a forum selection clause in Castro's employment contract that required him to bring the lawsuit in Malta. The trial court concluded that the forum selection clause was valid and enforceable, and dismissed the case against Pullmantur. We agree, and affirm.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         Pullmantur is a cruise line based in Spain. In 2013, Castro was living in Honduras and applied to work on a Pullmantur cruise ship. Castro, in May of that year, signed an employment agreement with Pullmantur Ship Management Limited, a Bahamian company. The employment agreement provided that Castro would work as a cabin steward on Pullmantur's Sovereign cruise ship from May to November, and would be paid $1, 208 per month. Castro, the agreement said, would meet the Sovereign in Civitavecchia, Italy, and begin working on May 14. As part of the employment contract, Castro agreed that his "employment aboard the vessel shall be governed by the Laws of the vessel's flag state . . . and any disputes hereunder shall be adjudicated in that jurisdiction only."

         The Sovereign is owned by Pullmantur Cruises Sovereign, a Maltese corporation. The company's base of operations is in Malta, and the Sovereign is flagged there. The Sovereign's home port is Barcelona, Spain. In the warm weather months, the ship sailed in the Mediterranean Sea. In the cold weather months, it sailed in South America.

         Castro alleged that on September 7, 2013, while he was working on the Sovereign, he was severely injured because of the constant heavy lifting, bending, twisting, and turning he had to do as a cabin steward. Castro claimed that his injuries were the result of the Pullmantur entities' negligence, and filed a complaint in Miami-Dade County circuit court for: (1) Jones Act negligence; (2) unseaworthiness; (3) failing to provide maintenance and cure; and (4) failing to treat his injuries.[1]

         Pullmantur moved to dismiss Castro's complaint based on the forum selection clause. Castro responded that the forum selection clause was unreasonable because Malta was too inconvenient and expensive for him to litigate this case such that he would be deprived of his day in court, and it was void under federal law. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that "enforcement of the forum selection clause [was] reasonable under the circumstances because the subject vessel [was] flagged in Malta, the shipowner [was] incorporated in Malta, Malta has an interest in regulating its ships and shipowners and Malta has an established system recognizing and enforcing seaman's rights."[2]

         Analysis

         Castro contends on appeal that the trial court erred in finding the forum selection clause in his contract valid and enforceable because: (1) the clause is unreasonable given how "gravely difficult and inconvenient" it would be for him to litigate the case in Malta; and (2) it is void after the 2008 amendments to the Jones Act. We review the trial court's order, which dismissed the case based on the forum selection clause in ...


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