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Carnival Corp. v. Garcia

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

January 3, 2018

Carnival Corporation, Appellant,
v.
Mirta Garcia, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from a non-final order from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 15-3111, Barbara Areces, Judge.

          Ross and Girten, and Lauri Waldman Ross, and Theresa L. Girten; Foreman Friedman, P.A., and Jeffrey E. Foreman and Noah D. Silverman, for appellant.

          Alvarez, Carbonell, Cooke, Feltman, & DaSilva, PL., and Paul B. Feltman, for appellee.

          Before LOGUE, LUCK and LINDSEY, JJ.

          LINDSEY, J.

         Carnival Corporation appeals the trial court's denial of its motion for reconsideration of its motion to dismiss (the "motion to dismiss") which sought dismissal of this action for improper venue. Because the federal court has admiralty jurisdiction over this action, and because the cruise contract that governs the relationship between Carnival Corporation ("Carnival") and the plaintiff below required this lawsuit to be filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, we reverse for the reasons more fully set forth below.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mirta Garcia purchased a ticket to cruise on the M/V CARNIVAL VICTORY, a cruise ship she alleges is owned and/or operated by Carnival departing on November 7, 2013. Bold, capitalized language on the top of the "ticket contract" stated:

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO GUESTS THIS DOCUMENT IS A LEGALLY BINDING CONTRACT ISSUED BY CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES TO, AND ACCEPTED BY, GUEST SUBJECT TO THE IMPORTANT TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPEARING BELOW.
NOTICE: THE ATTENTION OF GUEST IS ESPECIALLY DIRECTED TO CLAUSES 1, 4 AND 10 THROUGH 13, WHICH CONTAIN IMPORTANT LIMITATIONS ON THE RIGHTS OF GUESTS TO ASSERT CLAIMS AGAINST CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, THE VESSEL, THEIR AGENTS AND EMPLOYEES, AND OTHERS, INCLUDING FORUM SELECTION, ARBITRATION AND WAIVER OF JURY TRIAL FOR CERTAIN CLAIMS.

         Paragraph 13, entitled "Jurisdiction, Venue, Arbitration and Time Limits for Claims, " contains the following forum selection provision:

(c) [I]t is agreed by and between the Guest and Carnival that all disputes and matters whatsoever arising under, in connection with or incident to this Contract or the Guest's cruise, including travel to and from the vessel, shall be litigated, if at all, before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, or as to those lawsuits to which the Federal Courts of the United States lack subject matter jurisdiction, before a court located in Miami-Dade County, Florida, U.S.A. to the exclusion of the Courts of any other county, state or country.

         Garcia sued Carnival in state court for injuries allegedly sustained at the Port of Miami terminal while riding on an escalator to embark on her cruise.[2] Garcia asserted jurisdiction is proper in state court under "general maritime law" and the "savings to suitors clause" of 28 U.S.C. section 1333. In her complaint, Garcia alleged she was a business invitee of Carnival and that Carnival undertook the duty to supervise, control, and direct the embarkation of its business invitees using the escalator and, specifically, that "[i]n order to board the vessel, she and a crowd of people were directed [by Carnival] to utilize an escalator leading up a ramp, the upper landing of which led to the vessel's gangway." Garcia claimed she was injured when she fell because the escalator jolted, purportedly due to "crowded conditions on board the escalator[] and a lack of crowd control, " all of which Garcia attributed to negligence on the part of Carnival. Further, Garcia contended Carnival, among other things, breached its non-delegable duty to provide safe ingress and egress to the vessel by failing to provide an "appropriately designed entranceway to the M/V [CARNIVAL VICTORY]." And, Garcia alleged Carnival breached its assumed duty to supervise, control, and direct the embarkation of business invitees on board various ships including the M/V CARNIVAL VICTORY.

         Carnival moved to dismiss, arguing that venue was improper because the ticket contract between Garcia and Carnival contains a forum selection clause which requires all suits for personal injuries to be filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami. In her response, Garcia asserted that the case was properly filed in state court because the United States District Court lacked subject ...


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