Because before suit was filed and before a contractual limitations period expired, a cruise line expressly informed a passenger that any suit had to be filed in federal court and that the federal forum selection clause would not be waived, her state court suit was insufficient to toll the limitations period and render her later federal suit timely.

SYLVIA CRIST, Plaintiff-Appellant, versus CARNIVAL CORPORATION, a Panamanian Company, a.k.a. Carnival Cruise Lines, Defendant-Appellee.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 24749

December 2, 2010, Filed

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Plaintiff passenger sued defendant cruise line for negligence, alleging she was injured by an unsafe staircase on the cruise line’s ship. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted summary judgment to the cruise line, finding the suit was barred by a one-year one-year contractual limitation period and that equitably tolling did not apply based on a prior state court action. The passenger appealed.

OVERVIEW:

Alleging the passenger was a Florida “resident,” rather than a Florida “citizen,” was insufficient for diversity jurisdiction, and the cruise line, a foreign corporation with its alleged principal place of business in Florida, could also be a citizen of Florida. Thus, there was no diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. But, federal admiralty jurisdiction existed under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1333 because the case involved the passenger’s injury while she was on a ship. Prior to suit being filed, and prior to the contractual limitations period expiring, the cruise line expressly informed the passenger that all lawsuits had to be filed in federal court, and that its contractual rights, including the federal forum selection clause, would not be waived. Thus, the passenger was not entitled to believe that her state filing might be sufficient. Despite having clear notice of the forum selection clause requiring filing in federal court, an action was filed in state court nine days before the running of the one-year contractual limitation period. The forum selection clause would lose much of its meaning if, on such facts, the passenger could circumvent it without consequence.

OUTCOME:

The judgment was affirmed.

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Combining a property-damage counterclaim with a limitation of liability in order to wipe out a substantial personal injury claim under the Jones Act was a liability-exempting device forbidden by 45 U.S.C.S. § 55, and a shipowner’s counterclaim was properly dismissed.

VINCENT RAY DEERING, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. NATIONAL MAINTENANCE & REPAIR, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 24580

December 2, 2010, Decided

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Plaintiff river-boat pilot sued defendant employer, under the Jones Act and general admiralty law, for injuries sustained in an accident. Defendant counterclaimed for damages plaintiff allegedly caused when the boat sunk. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois dismissed the counterclaim. Defendant appealed. The appeal presented questions of admiralty law and of jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals in admiralty cases.

OVERVIEW:

In deciding whether it had jurisdiction over the appeal, the court found that the appeal raised a controlling question of law and also an issue that arose from a separate claim within the meaning of Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b), i.e., whether defendant should be allowed to counterclaim for property damage was a separate issue from the merits of plaintiff’s personal injury claim or defendant’s limitation of liability claim; thus, it was the kind of interlocutory matter that was frequently allowed even in nonmaritime cases. Although defendant’s notice of appeal was untimely, its Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) motion met the notice requirements and served as a notice of appeal. After reviewing the case law and the history of the Jones Act and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, the court concluded that combining a property-damage counterclaim with a limitation of liability in order to wipe out a substantial personal injury claim under the Jones Act was a liability-exempting device forbidden by 45 U.S.C.S. § 55. The court did not resolve whether a shipowner who did not seek to limit his liability was forbidden to set off damages for negligent damage to property against a Jones Act claim.

OUTCOME:

The court affirmed the dismissal of defendant’s counterclaim.

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Dock owner’s policy that its gangway had to be used was insufficient to create a duty to a vessel’s crew member, and the established precedent was that a dock owner had no general maritime duty to provide a crew member with a means of boarding and departing from the ship, so summary judgment to the dock owner was affirmed.

STEVE D. LANDERS, Plaintiff-Appellant v. BOLLINGER AMELIA REPAIR, LIMITED LIABILITY CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 25243

December 9, 2010, Filed

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Plaintiff vessel crew member sued defendant dock owner claiming the owner was negligent under maritime law for failing to provide a safe gangway. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted the owner’s motion for summary judgment, holding the owner did not have a maritime relationship with the crew member. The crew member appealed.

OVERVIEW:

The crew member asked for a new legal precedent that when a dock owner assumed a duty to provide equipment to a vessel, the dock owner was potentially liable under the general maritime law of negligence. But, there was no basis to expand maritime jurisdiction that way. The doctrine of seaworthiness was not applicable to a dock owner who was not an owner or operator of the vessel. Absent a maritime status between the parties, a dock owner’s duty to crew members of a vessel using the dock was defined by state law, not maritime law. The vessel had no useable and accessible gangway. Only the crew member and another crew member, both employees of the vessel owner and operator, set up and removed the dock’s gangway and it was inspected by a crew member before use. The “Good Samaritan” rule triggered state negligence law, not maritime law. The seaworthiness doctrine was limited to vessel owners or operators, and thus did not apply. The dock’s policy that its gangway had to be used was insufficient to create a duty. The established precedent was that a dock owner had no general maritime duty to provide a crew member with a means of boarding and departing from the ship.

OUTCOME:

The district court’s judgment was affirmed.