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Cameron W. Eubanks shareholder with Fowler White Burnett. Cameron W. Eubanks shareholder with Fowler White Burnett.

On June 30, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Carnival v. Deroy, No. 18-12619, — F.3d — (11th Cir. June 30, 2020), held that a Florida-resident cruise ship passenger was only permitted to sue Carnival Cruise Line in federal court in Miami in accordance with her cruise ticket contract. The district court below previously dismissed the passenger’s federal lawsuit to allow her to proceed in a Florida state court in Miami. Carnival appealed that decision. The appellate court agreed with Carnival, reversing the dismissal order.

Cruise lines and passengers commonly enter ticket contracts that contain terms and conditions applicable to the passenger’s cruise. One such common term is a forum selection clause. A forum selection clause is an agreement between the parties where disputes will be litigated. The U.S. Supreme Court has approved the use of these clauses in cruise ticket contracts, noting that cruise lines transport their passengers through many jurisdictions. Clarifying the forum for litigation spares the parties the time and expense of litigating the issue, which allows the cruise line to pass those savings to passengers. The forum selection clause in Deroy provided, in relevant part, that “all disputes … shall be litigated, if at all, before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, or as to those lawsuits to which the federal courts … lack subject matter jurisdiction, before a court located in Miami-Dade County, Florida.” Courts had previously referred to this as a “federal” forum selection clause, and cruise passenger litigation was primarily  occuring in federal court in Miami as a result of this forum selection clause and similar ones in the ticket contracts of other, major cruise lines.

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