Case of the Day: Royal Caribbean Cruises v. Jackson

The case of the day is Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. v. Jackson (S.D. Fla. 2013). Royal Caribbean sued for exoneration after Darren Jackson and Susan Moravec were injured parasailing while on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Jackson and Moravec filed a counterclaim and a third party complaint for negligence against Nino Abarquez and Ramon Musngi, two Royal Caribbean employees, alleging negligence.

Jackson and Moravec served process by mailing a copy of the documents to the Florida Secretary of State, who accepted service on their behalf and then sent the documents by certified mail to Royal Carribean’s office in Miami. Abarquez and Musngi were Philippine nationals who did not reside in Florida and who received the complaint by mail from Royal Caribbean in Labadee, Haiti. Jackson and Moravec also sent the documents to the defendant in care of Royal Caribbean by registered mail, return receipt requested. Royal Caribbean was not their authorized agent for service of process. According to Jackson and Moravec, Labadee is an “isolated enclave controlled by” Royal Caribbean “and which is closed to the public.” They claimed not to have access to the enclave and thus to have no way to serve Abarquez or Musngi. The judge rejected this interesting argument for reasons that are not really clear. If Jackson and Moravec’s claim is true, it poses an interesting problem, though one that the case leaves undecided.

The only basis for substituted service on the Secretary of State is a Florida statute, which is incorporated into federal law under FRCP 4(e)(1). But FRCP 4(e)(1) only applies to service “in a judicial district of the United States.” I think it was probably a mistake for the court even to consider whether the Florida statute permitted the service, because Abarquez and Musngi were abroad. But in any event, the judge held that the Florida statute did not apply for reasons of Florida law that are unimportant here.

The judge also rejected the service by registered mail, holding that Jackson and Moravec had failed to comply with FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) because the mail was addressed to Abarquez and Musngi’s employer rather than to them. This seems right, on the assumption that the employer is not the agent of the employees for service of process.

There is an easy answer to Jackson and Moravec’s problem …

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