Federal Court Enforces Forum Selection Clause in Cruise Ticket
April 9, 2013

by Carl D. Buchholz, III, and Kevin McGee

Denise Irwin v. Celebrity Cruises, et al., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Docket No. 12-4385-JHS

Denise Irwin purchased a ticket through a travel agent for a cruise on the CELEBRITY SUMMIT.  The Cruise Ticket Contract contained a forum selection clause requiring that any action commenced against the cruise ship owner must be filed in the federal court in Miami.  Irwin allegedly slipped in a puddle of water on the deck of the vessel on the first day of the cruise and subsequently filed suit against Celebrity Cruises in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Carl D. Buchholz, III and Kevin McGee of Rawle & Henderson represented Celebrity Cruises and filed a motion to enforce the forum selection clause contained in the Cruise Ticket Contract and transfer the case to Miami.

Irwin admittedly never received a hard copy of the Cruise Ticket Contract with the forum selection clause or signed a copy of the Cruise Ticket Contract agreeing to its terms.  However, prior to boarding the vessel for the start of the cruise, Irwin went to the Celebrity Cruise’s website to obtain her boarding pass.  A copy of the entire Cruise Ticket Contract, including the forum selection clause, was also available on this website.  The boarding pass that Irwin printed and signed contained the following certification:

Cruise Ticket Contact
I, Denise Irwin certify that I am over 18 years of age, and that during the online check-in-process, I read and accepted all of the conditions stated on the cruise ticket contract with authority and on behalf of the following guests…Thomas Francescangeli, Denise Irwin.

Although Irwin also denied reviewing the contents of the Cruise Ticket Contract on the website, U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky ruled that the certification she had executed on the boarding pass, certifying that she had read and accepted the terms of the Cruise Ticket Contract, bound her to the terms of that Cruise Ticket Contract, including the forum selection clause, even if she had not read the Contract. As a result, he transferred the case to Miami, Florida.

Carl D. Buchholz, III, is Chair of the Maritime, Insurance Coverage and Appellate Sections of Rawle & Henderson LLP. His federal appellate practice includes an argument before the United States Supreme Court as well as numerous arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. His state appellate practice includes seven arguments before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as well as numerous arguments before the Pennsylvania Superior Court and Commonwealth Court. In 2006, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointed Carl to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court designated Carl as Chair of the Disciplinary Board. He graduated from Muhlenberg College in 1967 and Villanova Law School in 1970 where he was a member of the Villanova Law Review and graduated with honors.

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