MIAMI — A Florida appeals court rejected a lower court decision to deny Carnival Corp.’s motion to dismiss a negligence lawsuit for improper venue after a plaintiff filed her complaint in a state court in Palm Beach County instead of in federal court in Miami as Carnival's ticket contract requires.
The three-judge panel for the 3rd District Court of Appeal, Judges Thomas Logue, Robert J. Luck and Norma Lindsey, with Lindsey delivering the court opinion, agreed that the case should be remanded. Lindsey wrote in the opinion that the courts should be cohesive in following the guidelines of maritime law.
“This finding is consistent with the modern, expansive view of admiralty jurisdiction to provide for the uniform application of general maritime law," she wrote.
Lindsey emphasized the importance of uniformity in maritime law in the appeals court’s opinion and adhering to the “federal principles of harmony and uniformity when applying federal maritime law,” referencing the Carnival Corp. v. Carlisle case decision.
In the original case, Mirta Garcia purchased a ticket for the Carnival ship Victory in November 2013. In the Port of Miami on that day, Garcia claims that employees directed passengers to use a ramp to an escalator to board, where she fell and was injured. Garcia alleges negligence on Carnival’s part for allowing too many people to attempt to board at once. She also claimed the ramp was faulty due to poor workmanship.
Her initial complaint was transferred from the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in Palm Beach County to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County. The 11th Circuit agreed with Garcia that general maritime law allowed her to file in Palm Beach, applying the Savings to Suitors clause, which gives state courts jurisdiction to hear general maritime law claims if a plaintiff elects to file them there instead of federal court. Carnival appealed the decision, requesting Garcia’s complaint be dismissed for improper venue, stating that Garcia filed her complaint in a different court than the court the contract obligated customers to.
Lindsey wrote that the appeals court reversed because “the federal court has admiralty jurisdiction over this action, and because the cruise contract that governs the relationship between Carnival Corporation (“Carnival”) and the plaintiff below required this lawsuit to be filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.”
Lindsey wrote that “based on the facts alleged in Garcia’s complaint and irrespective of whether she was embarking or disembarking,” the court was satisfied that there was a connection between the incident embarking the ship and potential delays or disruptions it could cause.
The appeals court found that Carnival had a duty to protect its passengers that did not begin only when a customer stepped onto the ship or end when they disembarked.
Lindsey concluded that the case was reversed and remanded in accordance with the Supreme Court precedence for uniformity in maritime activity.
“Indeed, a ruling that admiralty jurisdiction did not extend literally beyond the gangplank in this case would upset the very uniformity that the Supreme Court has determined is so important for maritime activity,” she wrote.