Enforces Forum Selection Clause on Cruise Ship Ticket
v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 361 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.P.R. 2005).
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.
Jans 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.
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
The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico denied Carnivals
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)).