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Cox v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 25, 2013

Debra Cox and Ted Cox, Plaintiffs,
v.
Princess Cruise Lines, LTD., and DOES I through L, inclusive, Defendants.

ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PORTIONS OF PLAINTIFFS' [8] COMPLAINT

RONALD S.W. LEW, Senior District Judge.

Currently before the Court is Defendant Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd.'s ("Defendant") Motion to Dismiss Portions of Plaintiffs' Complaint [8]. The Court, having reviewed all papers and arguments submitted pertaining to this Motion, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS: The Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendant's Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

This Motion stems from an Action brought by Plaintiffs Debra Cox ("Debra") and Ted Cox ("Ted"; collectively "Plaintiffs") against Defendant. Plaintiffs allege in their Complaint that on October 24, 2012, they embarked on a fourteen-day round-trip cruise from Los Angeles, California, to Hawaii aboard the Golden Princess, a cruise ship owned and operated by Defendant. Compl. ¶ 7. Debra has a disability consisting of a below-the-right-knee leg amputation, and she relies on a mobility scooter for transportation. Compl. ¶ 8. Prior to embarking on the cruise, Plaintiffs advised Defendant of Debra's disability and of her need for a handicap accessible room. Id . Defendant accommodated Debra by placing Plaintiffs in a wheelchair-accessible cabin with a balcony. Id. at ¶ 7. In order that disabled passengers might obtain access to the balcony from the cabin, Defendant purportedly designed, manufactured, installed, and maintained a ramp that allowed wheelchairs and mobility scooters to go over the cabin door threshold and outside to the balcony. Id. at ¶ 7. Plaintiffs allege that two days into their cruise, on October 26, 2012, Debra used the ramp to go outside the cabin onto the balcony. Id. at ¶ 9. On her way back into the cabin, the handicap ramp failed, separating under the load, and caused Debra's mobility scooter to trip over, resulting in a displaced intertrochanteric fracture of Debra's right femur. Id.

Plaintiffs subsequently instigated the present Action against Defendant and Does I through L, for alleged (1) negligence, (2) strict liability in tort, (3) common carrier negligence, and (4) loss of consortium [1]. Defendant presently moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for dismissal of Plaintiffs' second, third, and fourth claims and Plaintiffs' "claim" for exemplary and punitive damages [8].

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for dismissal of one or more claims if the pleading fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal can be based on a lack of cognizable legal theory or lack of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't , 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). However, a party is not required to state the legal basis for its claim, only the facts underlying it. McCalden v. Cal. Library Ass'n , 955 F.2d 1214, 1223 (9th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 112 S.Ct. 2306 (1992). In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must presume all factual allegations of the complaint to be true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Klarfeld v. United States , 944 F.2d 583, 585 (9th Cir. 1991).

The question presented by a motion to dismiss is not whether the plaintiff will prevail in the action, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of its claim. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 583 (2007). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Id. at 555 (internal citation omitted). Although specific facts are not necessary if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which the claim rests, a complaint must nevertheless "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

If dismissed, a court must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly held that a district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleadings was made, unless the court determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts. Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000). The court has discretion to deny leave to amend where deficiencies cannot be cured. Keniston v. Roberts , 717 F.2d 1295, 1300 (9th Cir. 1983).

III. ANALYSIS

Although neither Party disputes that this case is governed by maritime law, the Parties do not actually address the test for maritime law as defined by the Supreme Court in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. , 513 U.S. 527, 534 (1995). Thus, the Court addresses, as a preliminary matter, whether maritime law does, in fact, govern this case. Although maritime law historically turned on the single question of whether the tort at issue occurred on navigable waters, Gruver v. Lesman Fisheries Inc. , 489 F.3d 978, 982 (9th Cir. 2007), the Supreme Court refined the test in Grubart so that a tort claim is subject to federal maritime law when (1) it occurs on navigable waters or is caused by a vessel on navigable water, (2) the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, and (3) the activity giving rise to the incident has a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activities. Grubart , 513 U.S. at 534.

Applying this test to the case at hand, the Court finds that the torts at issue are governed by maritime law because the lawsuit arises from alleged misconduct that occurred while the Golden Princess was in navigable waters; injuries at sea invariably have the potential to disrupt maritime commerce (see Christensen v. Georgia-Pac. Corp. , 279 F.3d 807, 815, n.31 (9th Cir. 2002); McClenahan v. Paradise Cruises, Ltd. , 888 F.Supp. 120, 122 (D. Haw. 1995)); and the navigation of a cruise ship has a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activities (see McClenahan , 888 F.Supp. at 122). Thus, in determining whether Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated claims upon which relief can be granted, the Court looks to federal maritime law.

Debra brings three claims against Defendant, only two of which are at issue here: strict liability in tort and common carrier negligence. Compl. ¶¶ 15-30. Upon reading the Complaint, it is clear that Plaintiffs believe Defendant, as a corporation, fulfills various roles, two of which form the bases of Debra's claims-the role of designer and manufacturer of the handicap accessible ramp that was placed in Plaintiffs' Golden Princess cabin (see id. at ¶¶ 7, 10, 16), and the role of a common carrier for the transport of paying passengers (see id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiffs' belief about Defendant's multi-faceted capacity and the corresponding allegations in Plaintiffs' Complaint informs the Court's analysis of Debra's claims for purposes of this Motion.

Defendant argues that Debra's claim for strict liability in tort must be dismissed because shipowners generally owe only a duty of reasonable care to passengers, and courts only apply strict liability in maritime passenger personal injury cases when a crew member commits an intentional tort or crime toward a passenger. Reply 3:19-4:6. While the sole case from this Circuit upon which Defendant relies for this point appears at first glance to support Defendant's position (see Morton v. De Oliveira , 984 F.2d 289, 291-92 (9th Cir. 1993)), the facts of Morton are dissimilar to the ones at issue here, where ...


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