After receiving an “F” grade from the Better Business Bureau of Palm Beach County (BBB), Caribbean Cruise Lines filed a complaint against the consumer protection organization alleging defamation and violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FUDTPA). The trial court dismissed both claims finding the letter grade is pure opinion which is protected by the First Amendment and therefore cannot a claim for deformation cannot stand as well as the cruise line did not have standing to bring a FDUTPA claim. Caribbean Cruise Lines appealed the decision.
In a multiple paged opinion, the Florida appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the defamation claim but reversed the dismissal of the FDUPTA claim. The appellate court, without making a determination as to whether the BBB violated the Act, found the trial court erred in its legal finding that Caribbean Cruise Line had not standing to sue. “Standing” is the legal principal that affords a person or company the right to bring a lawsuit. The BBB argued that only consumers of BBB’s services have standing, and since the cruise line cannot be a consumer of its services, has no standing to bring a claim. The appellate court found this to be an incorrect statement of law. In doing so, it compared a previous version of the statute which read, “In any individual action brought by a consumer who has suffered a loss as a result of a violation of this part, such consumer may recover…” with the current version which reads “In any individual action brought by a person who has suffered a loss as a result of a violation of this part, such person may recover…” The appellate court reasoned that by rewording the statute, the Florida legislature no longer intended FDUPTA to apply to only consumers, but to other there persons and legal entities who were damaged and could prove the elements of the claim as well. As such, Caribbean Cruise Lines has the right to challenge its “F” grade placed by the BBB and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
Caribbean Cruise Lines is headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale and operates cruises from Palm Beach County Florida to the Bahamas. The company made widespread headlines last year when its cruise ship, the Bahamas Celebration, ran aground Free Port causing several hundred people to be evacuated.