Factual and procedural background
Barry Korman went on a cruise with Princess Cruise Lines in Feb. 2017. While he was using the day spa, the cruise ship encountered a storm. The passengers were not warned of the impending storm before the cruise ship encountered it. The bad weather caused the cruise ship to tip, which resulted in Korman falling in the spa and breaking his hip. He suffered a permanent injury as a result and filed a lawsuit against Princess Cruise Lines on Aug. 29, 2017.
Korman filed his lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court and alleged that Princess Cruise Lines had been negligent and had breached its contract. The attorney for Princess Cruise Lines told Korman’s lawyer that the complaint was filed in the wrong court. The contract that Korman had been given when he purchased a ticket stated that claims involving bodily injury must be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California unless the claims involved matters over which the federal court did not have subject matter jurisdiction. In that case, the claims could be filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
The defendant then filed a motion to stay or to dismiss the litigation on Oct. 27, 2017, based on forum non conveniens. Korman objected to the motion and argued that the clause did not apply because the case had been filed in California. He also argued that the respondent had not shown that the state court would be inconvenient for any party and that the respondent had failed to file a motion to remove the action from state to federal court within 30 days as required by law.
The trial court granted the respondent’s motion conditionally on Feb. 1, 2018. The court said that the clause was mandatory and that the parties should choose the federal court if it had subject matter jurisdiction. The case was stayed until a hearing on March 15, 2018. Korman’s lawyer did not file a complaint in federal court. On March 15, the court granted the respondent’s motion and dismissed the complaint. Korman then filed an appeal.
Issue: Whether the forum selection clause in the contract was enforceable and mandatory?
The plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in dismissing the case for several reasons. He first argued that California’s statutes for forum non conveniens did not apply because the contractual clause designated both a geographic region and mandated that the case had to be filed in federal court. He argued that there had been no showing of inconvenience for any party or witness of appearing in state court instead of federal court.
Rule: Forum selection clauses are generally considered to be enforceable in California.
In California, courts will presume that forum selection clauses are valid when they appear in contracts. Plaintiffs have the burden of proof to show that the clauses are not enforceable or that the enforcement of the clauses would be unreasonable. Under Cal. Civ. Proc. § 410.30, courts are able to stay or dismiss cases if they find that it is in the interest of justice for the cases to be heard outside of the state. Under Cal. Civ. Proc. § 418.10, defendants are allowed to file motions to stay or dismiss claims based on an inconvenient forum.
The Court of Appeals reviewed the appellant’s arguments about the inapplicability of the statutes. It first found that his arguments that the statutes did not apply did not follow the law in the state. The court pointed out several cases that indicate that the proper way for a defendant to raise an argument about a forum selection clause is to file a motion under Cal. Civ. Proc. §§ 410.30 and 418.10, which the defendant had done. The court found that since filing a motion under these statutes is the proper way to raise an argument about a forum selection clause, it did not matter that the issue in Korman’s case didn’t involve his filing the claim outside of the state.
The court then looked at whether the clause was permissive or mandatory. The language of the clause stated that the parties shall litigate claims in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The court found that the use of the word “shall” indicated that the clause was mandatory instead of permissive. The clause only allowed litigation in state court if the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. However, Korman’s injuries occurred on a cruise ship while he was at sea, and the federal courts have original subject matter jurisdiction to hear cases that fall under maritime law.
Finally, the court looked at whether enforcing the clause was reasonable. Forum selection clauses are considered to be valid unless the plaintiffs are able to show that enforcing them would be unreasonable. A clause will only be considered to be unreasonable if the plaintiff is able to show that the chosen forums are not able to accomplish substantial justice or if there isn’t a rational basis for choosing the forum.
The court found that the plaintiff’s arguments were without merit and that he should have filed the case in federal court as mandated by the clause. The court found in favor of the respondent and affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint.
Contact an experienced cruise ship injury attorney
If you have been injured on a cruise ship, it is important for you to consult with a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in handling cruise ship accidents and injuries. An attorney who is experienced in this area of tort law might help you to make certain that your case is filed in the correct court so that your potential rights can be protected. To learn more about your rights and your claim, contact the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat to schedule a free consultation.