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Havana Docks Corp. v. MSC Cruises SA Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

January 3, 2020




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendants MSC Cruises SA Co. and MSC Cruises (USA) Inc.'s (together, “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. [24] (“Motion”). Plaintiff Havana Docks Corporation (“Havana Docks” or “Plaintiff”) filed a Response, ECF No. [34] (“Response”), to which Defendants filed a Reply, ECF No. [39] (“Reply”). The Court has carefully considered the Motion, the Response and Reply, the record in this case and the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 27, 2019, Havana Docks filed this action against Defendants pursuant to Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (the “LIBERTAD Act” or “Act”). ECF No. [1] (“Complaint”). “One of the LIBERTAD Act's purposes is to ‘protect United States nationals against confiscatory takings and the wrongful trafficking in property confiscated by the Castro Regime.'” Id. ¶ 7 (citing 22 U.S.C. § 6022(6)).

         Plaintiff is a United States national as defined by 22 U.S.C. § 6023(15). Id. ¶ 8. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that it is the rightful owner of an interest in, and claim to, certain commercial waterfront real property in the Port of Havana, Cuba, identified as the Havana Cruise Port Terminal (“Subject Property”). Id. Plaintiff claims that it owned the Subject Property until the Cuban Government confiscated it in 1960. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiff further alleges that since its confiscation, the Subject Property has not been returned and adequate and effective compensation has not been provided. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff's ownership interest in and claim to the Subject Property has been certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (“Commission”) under the International Claim Settlement Act of 1949. Id. ¶ 13.

         According to the Complaint, on or about December 10, 2018, Defendants “knowingly and intentionally commenced, conducted, and promoted their commercial cruise line business to Cuba using the Subject Property by regularly embarking and disembarking their passengers on the Subject Property without the authorization of Plaintiff or any U.S. national who holds a claim to the Subject Property. Id. ¶ 14. At that time, Defendants participated in and profited from the communist Cuban Government's possession of the Subject Property without Plaintiff's authorization. Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff claims that Defendants' knowing and intentional conduct with regard to the confiscated Subject Property is “trafficking” as defined in 22 U.S.C. § 6023(13)(A), and Defendants are liable to Plaintiff for all money damages allowed by statute. Id. ¶¶ 16-17.

         Defendants have now moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).


         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)). “[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).

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court, as a general rule, must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and evaluate all plausible inferences derived from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. See Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 2012); Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. S. Everglades Restoration Alliance, 304 F.3d 1076, 1084 (11th Cir. 2002); AXA Equitable Life Ins. Co. v. Infinity Fin. Grp., LLC, 608 F.Supp.2d 1349, 1353 (S.D. Fla. 2009) (“On a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all facts alleged by the non-moving party are accepted as true.”); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court considering a Rule 12(b) motion is generally limited to the facts contained in the complaint and attached exhibits, including documents referred to in the complaint that are central to the claim. Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949, 959 (11th Cir. 2009); see Maxcess, Inc. v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 433 F.3d 1337, 1340 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[A] document outside the four corners of the complaint may still be considered if it is central to the plaintiff's claims and is undisputed in terms of authenticity.”) (citing Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1135 (11th Cir. 2002)). Although the court is required to accept as true all allegations contained in the complaint, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         In their Motion, Defendants argue that the Complaint should be dismissed for four reasons: 1) Plaintiff fails to include sufficient allegations regarding Defendants' alleged trafficking in Plaintiff's property and impermissibly groups both Defendants together; 2) Plaintiff's claim of trafficking fails as a matter of law; 3) Title III of the LIBERTAD Act violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment; and 4) Title III's remedy provision violates the Due Process Clause. Because the Court finds the second issue to be dispositive, the Court considers it first.

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff's “property” as defined in the LIBERTAD Act is not at issue in the Complaint because Plaintiff's property interest in the Subject Property is a leasehold that expired in 2004. As such, Defendants reason that Plaintiff can only assert claims under Title III for trafficking that allegedly took place prior to the expiration of Plaintiff's leasehold in the Subject Property. The Defendants correctly point out that the Complaint does not allege that the Defendants ever trafficked in, profited from, or infringed upon the confiscated leasehold interest which expired in 2004. In response, Plaintiff argues that the Court has already considered and rejected the same argument made previously by Carnival Corporation in a related case. See Havana Docks Corp. v. Carnival Corp., No. 19-cv-21724, ECF No. [47]. The Court in Carnival agreed with Plaintiff that the interpretation suggested by Carnival (and Defendants here) conflates a claim to a property and a property interest. Id. However, upon further review and analysis, the Court reconsiders its previous interpretation of the statute given the time-limited nature of Plaintiff's claim, a fact not in dispute.

         “The first rule in statutory construction is to determine whether the language at issue has a plain and unambiguous meaning with regard to the particular dispute. If the statute's meaning is plain and unambiguous, there is no need for further inquiry.” U.S. v. Silva, 443 F.3d 795, 797-98 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotations omitted). “This is so because ‘[t]he plain language is presumed to express congressional intent and will control a court's interpretation.'” Moss v. GreenTree-Al, LLC, 378 B.R. 655, 658 (S.D. Ala. 2007) (quoting U.S. v. Fisher, 289 F.3d 1329, 1338 (11th Cir. 2002) (alterations in the original)). It is a court's duty “to give effect, if possible, to every clause and word of a statute.” Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 174 (2001) (citations omitted). And, “[w]hen interpreting a statute, words must be given their ‘ordinary or natural' meaning[.]” Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 8 (2004) (citation omitted). In any event, “[a] court ‘should not ...

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