Two judges in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County Florida arrived at opposite conclusions as to whether Americans who suffered horrors in the Costa Concordia disaster can maintain their lawsuits in Florida. In both cases, Costa Cruise Lines along with its parent company Carnival Cruises filed motions to dismiss based upon the legal doctrine of forum non conveniens. This doctrine in simplest terms is that a case should not be tried in a particular jurisdiction if it would be too inconvenient to conduct the case in that certain geographical location. Given the complexities of such cases often times courts view the issues differently and give differing opinions. Such an instance of differing opinions is shown in the cases of Abeid-Saba v. Carnival Corp. and Scimone v. Carnival Corp. decided on the same day in Miami, Florida.
In order to have a case dismissed for forum non conveniens the defendant must prove three things. First there is an adequate alternative forum which has jurisdiction over the dispute; Second, the “private” interest factors favor dismissal; and, Third the “public” interest factors favor dismissal. When the case involves American plaintiffs, the court must give deference to the plaintiffs’ forum and the defendants must show that litigating the case in the United States would be considered a manifest injustice.
In order for there to be an alternative available forum, a court must exist in a jurisdiction capable to resolving the case and providing plaintiffs some relief their case is proven. This does not mean the alternative forum needs to have the same safe guards or remedies as a United States courts. In fact, an American court can dismiss a case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens if the alternative forum does not have a jury system, allows for contingency fees or even allows for the same type of money recovery. Both courts easily found Italy to be an alternative available forum for resolving matters involving the Concordia disaster.
Courts analyzing the public interest factors must take in account the costs and inconvenience for the parties to present their case in Florida. Courts in weighing the public interest factors look to the location of the parties, witnesses and evidence as well as the cost and ability to gather evidence and come to the forum to litigate the case. The Abeud-Saba court focused on the bulk of the evidence being located in Italy and the cost of translating the documents into English to be such a burden to the cruise lines as to be considered a material and manifest injustice to present their case in Florida. As such, this court found the private interest factors to favor dismissal. The Scimone court focused on Carnival’s and Costa’s presence in the United States and that much of the evidence has already been gathered and translated into English which could be easily obtained through an international evidence sharing treaty. As such, this court found it would not be overly burdensome for the cruise lines to litigate in Florida and, therefore the private interest factors tip in favor of allowing the American citizen’s case proceed in Miami.
The issues the court must review in determining whether the public interest factors favor dismissal are the cost and burden of the people of the area must endure should the case go forward as well as the public interest of the people of Florida have in the case. The Abeud-Saba court found most of all of the conduct leading to the grounding occurred in Italy and Florida does not have much interest in the case. The Scimone court found that dismissing the foreign plaintiffs’ alleviated the public interest concerns as there is a community link to the American Plaintiffs and it would not be overly burden for Floridian jurors to decide a case concerning fellow citizens. Both cases are on appeal to the Florida Third District Court of Appeal.
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