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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules that forum selection clause in Carnival Corporation’s passenger cruise ticket prevented plaintiff from dismissing her negligence lawsuit against Carnival pending in federal court

On June 30, 2020, in Deroy v. Carnival Corporation, No. 18-12619, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court ruling that had dismissed a plaintiff cruise ship passenger’s negligence lawsuit against Carnival Corporation. The plaintiff sought the dismissal to have her case heard in state court rather than federal court. Under the forum-selection clause of the passenger contract, federal court was the only option for the plaintiff so long as jurisdiction over the claim would lie in federal court. However, the plaintiff’s complaint was drafted so as not to explicitly invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction and the district court granted the plaintiff’s motion on this basis. The Eleventh Circuit cited it previous ruling in Caron v. NCL (Bahamas), Ltd., 910 F.3d 1359, 1365 (11th Cir. 2018) for the proposition that a tort claim must satisfy two criteria to fall within admiralty jurisdiction: (1) the incident must have taken place on navigable water or the injury must have been caused by a vessel on navigable water; and (2) the incident must have been “connected with maritime activity.” The plaintiff’s accident onboard the ship satisfied bother criteria. Having satisfied itself that maritime jurisdiction existed, the Eleventh Circuit observed that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h) provides that “[a] claim cognizable only in the admiralty or maritime jurisdiction is an admiralty or maritime claim for those purposes, whether or not so designated.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(h)(1).” The Eleventh Circuit concluded that it did not make any difference that the plaintiff in the instant case was not seeking to invoke admiralty jurisdiction and was instead seeking to avoid it. The Eleventh Circuit also concluded that a “saving-to-suitors clause” in 28 U.S.C. § 1333, which generally saves to suits in maritime cases “all other remedies to which they are entitled,” did not affect the result. The Court noted that the saving-to-suitors clause generally provides a plaintiff in a maritime case alleging an in personam claim three options: “(1) the plaintiff may file suit in federal court under admiralty jurisdiction . . . ; (2) the plaintiff may file suit in federal court under diversity jurisdiction; or (3) the plaintiff may file suit in state court,” quoting from St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Lago Canyon, Inc., 561 F.3d 1181, 1187 n.13 (11th Cir. 2009), and additionally citing Diesel “Repower”, Inc. v. Islander Invs. Ltd., 271 F.3d 1318, 1322 (11th Cir. 2001). The Court concluded that while this would have provided a basis for the plaintiff to bring her claim in state court rather than federal court, the forum selection cause in the passenger contract prevented her from having the matter litigated in state court.