Eleventh Circuit Validates Forum-Selection Clause in Cruise Passenger Contract
A new decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has addressed the validity of forum-selection clauses in cruise passenger contracts. In the case of the Estate of Tore Myhra v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., Case No. 10-15840 (11th Cir. Sept. 21, 2011), the Plaintiff, the estate of Tore Myhra, brought a negligence suit against Defendant, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., seeking damages for Mr. Myhra's injuries and death. In the fall of 2009, Tore Myhra and his family vacationed on a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean. The Plaintiff alleged that a bacterial infection, which Mr. Myhra had acquired while on board Royal Caribbean's vessel, had caused the events which resulted in his death. The Defendant moved to dismiss the action for improper venue under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) and relied on a forum-selection clause in Mr. Myhra's passage contract, which required all personal injury claims be litigated in the courts of England and Wales and governed by English law. In response, Plaintiff contended that the forum-selection clause was contrary to public policy and therefore invalid.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed the Plaintiff's case, noting that: forum-selection clauses are presumptively valid absent a strong showing that enforcement would be unfair or unreasonable under the circumstances; and that the Plaintiff failed to make the strong showing required to void the forum-selection clause.
On appeal, the estate contended that the forum-selection clause should be invalidated both because it was against the statutorily expressed public policy of the United States as set forth in 46 U.S.C. section 30509(a) and because its terms were not reasonably communicated to the Myhras.
The Eleventh Circuit concluded that 46 U.S.C. section 30509(a), in pertinent part, prevents a ship owner from placing, in the terms and conditions of a contract of passage or a similar instrument, a limitation on liability for personal injury or death. Accordingly, the statute, on its face, does not prohibit the use of a forum-selection clause. In this regard, there was no statutory authority preventing Royal Caribbean from including the forum-selection clause in the decedent's contract. In addition, the Eleventh Circuit did not perceive any procedural or substantive error in the district court's conclusion that notice of the Defendant's "UK terms and conditions" was reasonably communicated to the Myhras via five (5) separate invoices received before their October 2009 voyage.
Accordingly, the decision of the district court to dismiss the case was correct and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judgment.
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