Passengers Push For Jury Trial In Carnival COVID-19 Suit

By Joyce Hanson
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Law360 (April 14, 2021, 8:14 PM EDT) -- Princess Cruise Lines passengers have asked a California federal court to deny Carnival Corp.'s bid to ax their demand for a jury trial in their suit claiming the companies let passengers board a ship even though they knew people on a previous voyage had COVID-19 symptoms.

The passengers on Monday opposed Carnival's argument that they are not entitled to a jury trial because admiralty is the only basis in their suit for federal jurisdiction. They countered that the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees their right to a jury trial in common law matters, that they have brought common law claims with a diversity of citizenship, and that maritime law doesn't expressly forbid a trial by jury.

"Where parties invoke both admiralty and non-admiralty bases for jurisdiction, the parties' jury trial rights remain inviolate so long as their claims are ones that could have been brought at common law," the passengers said, citing a 1997 Ninth Circuit ruling in Ghotra by Ghotra v. Bandila Shipping Inc.

In addition, the passengers said, although U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner on Oct. 20 refused to certify their proposed class action after more than 2,000 people were exposed to the coronavirus on board a Grand Princess cruise, the Class Action Fairness Act provided them a basis for federal jurisdiction in their suit filed in April 2020. The cruise companies have never challenged the court's jurisdiction under CAFA, the passengers said.

"Because plaintiffs here properly invoked federal subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to CAFA and brought common law claims, the Seventh Amendment guarantees plaintiffs' right to a jury trial," the passengers argued.

On April 5, Princess Cruise Lines and Carnival Corp., Princess' parent company, had asked Judge Klausner to strike the passengers' jury demand, claiming that they did not properly invoke any non-admiralty basis for federal jurisdiction for the suit and insisting that the case must be dismissed.

"If the parties are not completely diverse, and there is no other colorable basis for federal jurisdiction, then the case is cognizable only in the admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, and there is no right to a jury trial, even if the complaint cites diversity as a basis for jurisdiction or demands a jury," the brief said.

Passengers who claim to have contracted the coronavirus say that they either tested positive soon after disembarking from the Grand Princess ship early last March or that they met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of a "probable case" while still aboard the Grand Princess or soon after disembarking, according to court documents.

In the April 2020 complaint, the proposed class of passengers alleged that Princess and Carnival allowed more than 2,400 passengers to board the Grand Princess ship in February 2020 while hiding that at least two passengers from the previous trip had COVID-19 symptoms.

The ship's staff didn't impose medical screenings for passengers, and didn't sanitize or disinfect the ship before new passengers arrived, the suit said.

When the Grand Princess left San Francisco for Hawaii in late February, several dozen people who had traveled on the ship's previous trip to Mexico remained on board for the Hawaii trip, and some of them had been potentially exposed to the virus, according to the complaint.

On Sept. 22, Judge Klausner slashed the passengers' claims, tossing allegations of negligence and saying the plaintiffs didn't establish when they started experiencing symptoms or when they tested positive for COVID-19 or virus antibodies.

And in his Oct. 20 order denying the proposed class' Aug. 31 request for certification, Judge Klausner found that the passengers had agreed to waive their right to file class actions when they bought tickets.

Princess and Carnival opposed the certification request on Sept. 4, arguing that the proposed class' claims were too varied to be certified, as the vast majority of the class had not alleged that they contracted the virus on the ship.

Counsel for Princess, Carnival and the passengers did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The passengers are represented by Gretchen M. Nelson and Carlos F. Llinás Negret of Nelson & Fraenkel LLP; Mary E. Alexander of Mary Alexander & Associates PC; Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Mark P. Chalos and Jonathan D. Selbin of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, and Joseph G. Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf LLC.

Princess Cruise Lines is represented by Jeffrey B. Maltzman, Rafaela P. Castells and Edgar R. Nield of Maltzman & Partners PA.

Carnival is represented by Jonathan W. Hughes and David J. Weiner of Arnold & Porter.

The case is Robert Archer et al. v. Carnival Corp. and PLC et al., case number 2:20-cv-04203, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Additional reporting by Melissa Angell, Sarah Jarvis, Y. Peter Kang and Rachel O'Brien. Editing by Kelly Duncan.

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