Publication year2020


John P. Kavanagh Jr.

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by John P. Kavanagh, Jr.

The cases discussed herein represent decisions the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued in 2018 and 2019. While not an all-inclusive list of maritime decisions from the court during that timeframe, the Author identified and provided summaries of key cases which should be of interest to the maritime practitioner.1


"This case arises from a drunken tumble down an escape hatch on a cruise ship."2 So begins the decision involving Plaintiff Olivier Caron's personal injury, which occurred while Caron was a passenger on the M/V STAR. Caron, a Canadian citizen, bought an all-inclusive package allowing him to drink unlimited beer and wine while on his cruise. During the early morning hours (3:37 a.m.) of July 16, 2015, Caron descended to a midship area of the vessel and proceeded through a door marked "CREW ONLY" into a restricted area. Two crewmembers tried to stop him, but Caron ran away when confronted. Caron then walked through another door marked "CREW ONLY," where he fell into a hole, which served as the escape hatch from the bowthruster room below.3

The suit was originally filed asserting both diversity of citizenship and admiralty jurisdiction.4 Caron's original complaint did not mention anything about alcohol, instead made allegations premised on general theories of negligence. Later, Caron amended his complaint adding an allegation that the cruise line was negligent in overserving alcohol to him. The district court granted a motion to dismiss this amended

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complaint (overserving alcohol) because it was time barred, filed outside the one-year limitation period contained in the passenger ticket contract.5

The cruise line moved for summary judgment and the district court granted the same. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit addressed three issues: (1) Whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction in the first instance, (2) whether the negligent "over-service of alcohol" claim was contractually barred or related back to the original filing, and (3) whether or not summary judgment on the negligence claim was proper.6 In an apparent case of first impression following the 2012 amendments to the subject matter jurisdiction statutes, the appellate court held that the district court did not have diversity jurisdiction for this suit filed by Caron (a Canadian citizen) and NCL (Bahamas), Ltd., a Bermuda corporation with its principal place of business in Florida.7 The federal diversity statute requires complete diversity; this is the case whether or not the contest is between citizens of different U.S. states or suits between two aliens (individuals or corporate entities).8

Nonetheless, the appellate court agreed with Caron that alternative subject matter jurisdiction did exist based on the federal court's admiralty jurisdiction.9 The plaintiff's claim of a maritime tort sufficed to invoke the court's jurisdiction in that regard.10

Having resolved the threshold jurisdiction issues, the court turned its attention to the relation back of Caron's amended complaint. Caron's attempt to amend his complaint and assert a negligent "over-service of alcohol" claim was barred by the one-year limitation period contained in the ticket contract.11 The original complaint made no mention of alcohol, instead focused on the physical condition of the ship.12 The

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court held that relation back under Rule 15 did not salvage the otherwise tardy amendment.13

Finally, turning to the substance of the negligence action, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the cruise line. Caron failed to present any evidence that the opening in which he fell down was unreasonably dangerous, or—assuming that the hatch did present a dangerous condition—that NCL had notice of the same.14

The decision in Davis v. Valsamis,15 involved claims brought by passengers on an infamous cruise aboard the CARNIVAL TRIUMPH. While underway in the Gulf of Mexico, a fire in the ship's engine room disabled the vessel. Hotel services and the expected accoutrements of a comfortable voyage (functioning toilets, air conditioning) simply stopped working.16 The conditions continued to deteriorate causing much distress and discomfort among those aboard, including 100 passengers who filed the instant lawsuit against Valsamis, Inc. (Valsamis), the contractor hired by Carnival to maintain the ship's engines and appurtenant equipment.17

The trial court granted summary judgment, and the decision was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit. The matter turned on one of contractual interpretation, again with reference to the limitations found in the passenger ticket contract. Like most cruise tickets, Carnival's passenger ticket contract requires putative claimants to notify Carnival of any injury, illness or death within 185 days after the date of the injury, illness or death.18 Suit must be filed within one year after the conclusion of the cruise.19 Of particular interest in this case is a "Himalaya Clause," which extended Carnival's rights—including the

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notice requirement—to other potential defendants.20 The Himalaya Clause in the present case extended rights, including exemptions from liability, defenses and immunities otherwise available to Carnival, to its suppliers, ship builders, manufacturers of component parts and independent contractors.21 The court held that Valsamis clearly fell within the scope and reach of the clause, and was thus was entitled to the protections contained in the passenger ticket contract.22

The dispositive question, however, was whether or not notice of claims against Valsamis had to be given in the 185-day notice period. Any claim for which Carnival had not received notice in such window would be barred. Plaintiffs argued the requisite notice period for Carnival should not be extended to its independent contractor, Valsamis.23 Reviewing the contract as a whole, the Eleventh Circuit rejected this position and held that the Himalaya Clause granted Valsamis the same rights—and imposed the same notice periods—as held by Carnival: "The specific recitation in the Himalaya Clause that Defendant shall have all of Carnival's rights and shall not have any liability different from that of Carnival renders unreasonable any interpretation of the notice provision that holds Defendant liable without receiving notice of Plaintiffs' claims within the allotted time."24

In Eslinger v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc.,25 the appellate court affirmed the district court's order dismissing a spouse's claim for loss of consortium. Derek Eslinger was injured while aboard the cruise ship EQUINOX, a vessel owned and operated by Celebrity Cruises, Inc.26 His wife Tara asserted her own claim for loss of consortium ("deprivation of the affection, solace, care, comfort, companionship, conjugal life, fellowship, society, and assurance of her husband that resulted from his

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injury").27 The district court dismissed Mrs. Eslinger's claim, and the appellate court affirmed.28 Citing In re Amtrak Sunset Ltd. Train Crash in Bayou Canot, Alabama.,29 along with a Jones Act case,30 the Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiffs may not recover "punitive damages [sic], including loss of consortium damages, for personal injury claims under federal maritime law."31

The court was unpersuaded that the intervening decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend32 required a different result.33 The Eleventh Circuit felt that Atlantic Sounding was inapplicable because it did not apply to loss of consortium claims; further, the appellate court noted that Eslinger failed to explain "why passenger spouses, but not those of seamen, should be permitted to recover for loss of consortium."34

The decision in K.T. v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.,35 involved claims arising from criminal activity of third parties aboard a cruise ship. The minor plaintiff (K.T.) alleged that she was sexually assaulted after being plied with alcohol by a group of adult men aboard a Royal Caribbean vessel. Her lawsuit included various causes of action, including—for present purposes—(1) a claim based on negligent failure to warn, and (2) negligent failure to prevent such assaults in the first place.36

The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.37 The Eleventh Circuit reversed.38 The opinion is unique for the fact that Chief Judge Ed Carnes not only wrote the opinion, but he also issued a special concurrence. More on that later.

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The standard of review in appealing an order dismissing suit via a Rule 1239 motion is fairly lenient; allegations in the complaint are accepted as true, and the court reviews de novo the decision of the trial judge.40 The complaint stated that the cruise line had knowledge (actual or constructive) of sexual assaults, as well as other acts of violence between passengers and crew. This included sexual assaults on minors, which was claimed to be a foreseeable and known danger to Royal Caribbean.41 "And that foreseeable and known danger imposed on Royal Caribbean and its crew a duty of ordinary reasonable care, which included the duty to monitor and regulate the behavior of its passengers, especially where minors are involved."42

The second theory of negligence (failure to warn) was held to be sufficiently stated to pass muster under the pleading standards.43 Failure to warn arises from foreseeability of a known danger.44 Citing the fact that cruise lines warn passengers about anticipated dangers in shore-based excursion, the appellate court stated that, "a cruise line certainly owes its passengers a 'duty to warn of known dangers' aboard its ship."45

The complaint was sufficiently plead to allege that Royal Caribbean knew or should have known about the dangers of sexual assault aboard...

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