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Roberts v. Carnival Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

November 13, 2019

ERIKA ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
CARNIVAL CORPORATION d/b/a Carnival Cruise Line, Defendant.

          ORDER

          BETH BLOOM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant Carnival Corporation's (“Defendant” or “Carnival”) Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. [6] (“Motion”). The Court has carefully reviewed the Motion, the opposing and supporting submissions, the record and applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff while on a cruise operated by the Defendant. Plaintiff alleges that on or about November 12, 2017, while on the Defendant's vessel, the Carnival Victory (the “Ship”), she slipped and fell on the Ship's pool deck and sustained injuries. ECF No. [1], at ¶ 18. Plaintiff claims that after she fell, she called the infirmary and was told that someone would come and retrieve her. Id. Plaintiff asserts that despite this representation, no one came to assist her, and she was forced to walk to the infirmary for treatment of her injuries. Id. As a result, Plaintiff seeks damages from Carnival for the injuries she sustained as a result of the incident. Plaintiff asserts claims for negligent maintenance, negligent failure to warn, negligent training of shipboard crewmembers, and negligent design against Carnival. The relationship between the Plaintiff and the Defendant is premised upon the purchase of a “Ticket Contract” that sets forth certain terms and conditions. One of the terms of the Ticket Contract was an agreement that any claim for personal injury must be brought within one year from the date of incident. Defendant now seeks dismissal of the claims on the basis that the Plaintiff failed to file suit within the one-year statute of limitations period.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A pleading in a civil action must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” it must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (explaining that Rule 8(a)(2)'s pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). Nor can a complaint rest on “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (alteration in original)). “To survive a motion to dismiss a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         Generally, whether a claim is barred by the statute of limitations should be raised as an affirmative defense in the answer rather than in a motion to dismiss. See La Grasta v. First Union Secs., Inc., 358 F.3d 840, 845 (11th Cir. 2004) (“A statute of limitations bar is an affirmative defense and plaintiffs are not required to negate an affirmative defense in their complaint.”) (internal citation and quotation omitted). However, if the complaint on its face shows that the statute of limitations bars the action, the defense can be raised by motion to dismiss. Id.; see also Tello v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 410 F.3d 1275, 1288 (11th Cir. 2005) (granting a motion to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds is appropriate if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the claim is time-barred).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In its Motion, Carnival argues that this action is barred by the one-year statute of limitations contained in the Defendant's Ticket Contract, ECF No. [6-1], and thus should be dismissed with prejudice. ECF No. [6], at 3-6. In Response, Plaintiff argues that a statute of limitations defense is inappropriately raised at the dismissal stage. Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that the statute of limitations does not bar the action because the limitations provision in the Ticket Contract was not “reasonably communicated” to the Plaintiff. See generally ECF No. [8].

         a. Consideration of the Statute of Limitations Defense is Proper

         The Court first addresses the procedural challenge that a statute of limitations defense is not properly raised through a motion to dismiss. A statute of limitations defense is appropriately raised where on the face of the pleadings it shows that the limitation period has expired. See Gonsalvez v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 750 F.3d 1195, 1197 (11th Cir. 2013); see also Spadaro v. City of Miramar, 855 F.Supp.2d 1317, 1328 (S.D. Fla. 2012). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court is generally “limited to the four corners of the complaint . . . and any documents referred to in the complaint which are central to the claims.” Wilchombe v. Teevee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949, 959 (11th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). A defendant may also attach such central documents to its motion to dismiss without converting the motion into a motion for summary judgment. Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida, Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997). “A cruise passenger ticket contract is one such document that, if it is central to a plaintiff's claim, may be attached and considered without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.” Amento v. Celebrity Cruises Inc., 2014 WL 11906598 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 30, 2014) (citing Racca v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 606 F.Supp.2d 1373, 1375 (S.D. Fla. 2009)). Here, the Defendant has attached the Ticket Contract, ECF No. [6-1], to the Motion and the Plaintiff references the Ticket Contract in her Complaint. ECF No. [1], at ¶ 5. While the Plaintiff challenges the Ticket Contract's enforceability, she does not challenge its authenticity. And because Plaintiff's claims are rooted in personal injury, the Ticket Contract is central to Plaintiff's claims based on its language. As such, the Court considers the Ticket Contract in analyzing the Motion without converting it into one for summary judgment.

         The limitation period provision expressed in the Ticket Contract reads as follows:

. . . (a) Carnival shall not be liable for any claims whatsoever for personal injury, illness or death of the Guest, unless full particulars in writing are given to Carnival within 185 days after the date of the injury, event, illness or death giving rise to the claim. Suit to recover on any such claim shall not be maintainable unless filed within one year after the date of the injury, event, illness or death, and unless served on Carnival within 120 ...

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