Sea Grant Law Center

Court Enforces Forum Selection Clause on Cruise Ship Ticket

Vega-Perez v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 361 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.P.R. 2005).

Ronni Stuckey, 3L, University of Mississippi School of Law

A district court in Puerto Rico recently enforced a forum selection clause contained on the back of a cruise ticket. Carnival Cruise Lines (Carnival) moved to dismiss the suit brought by the parents of an injured minor for improper venue. The court denied the motion to dismiss, but transferred the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Jan Ramos took a Carnival cruise with his grandparents in December of 2003. While waiting to disembark at the end of the cruise, Jan tripped on a rug and spilt his cheek on an air hockey machine in the arcade.
Jan’s parents (plaintiffs) filed a personal injury action against Carnival in federal district court in Puerto Rico. Carnival filed a Motion to Dismiss for improper venue because the passage contract contained a forum selection clause designating Miami, Florida as the exclusive dispute resolution forum. Carnival argued that the ticket contract and the travel brochure both reasonably communicated this forum selection clause to passengers.

Forum Selection Clause
The court stated that Puerto Rico law and federal common law support enforcement of forum selection clauses. The court stated, “as a rule, forum selection clauses ‘are prima facie valid and should be enforced unless enforcement is shown by the resisting party to be ‘unreasonable’ under the circumstances.’”1 The First Circuit has developed a two-prong test to evaluate the legitimacy of forum selection clauses under a “reasonably communicated” standard. A court first examines whether the ticket contract is clear and its language obvious and understandable and then evaluates whether the passenger was meaningfully informed of the contract terms.2 The court noted that a forum selection clause is enforceable regardless of whether the passenger read it.

The court found that because the plaintiffs were presumed to be aware of the forum selection clause when they received the tickets, the terms were assumed to be reasonably communicated to them. Furthermore, the court found the clause reasonable because Miami was not an unduly inconvenient forum.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico denied Carnival’s motion to dismiss for improper venue and transferred the suit to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

1. Vega-Perez v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 361 F. Supp. 2d 1, 2 (D.P.R. 2005) (quoting The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10 (1972)).
2. Id. at 3 (quoting Shankles v. Costa Armatori, 722 F.2d 7, 8-9 (1st Cir. 1991)).


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