Case of the Day: Alberts v. Royal Caribbean

The case of the day is Roberts v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (11th Cir. 2016). Usually, I don’t write about cruise line employee arbitration cases, because they’re mostly run-of-the-mill. But today’s case is more interesting than the usual.

Robert Alberts was the lead trumpeter on the Oasis of the Sea, a Royal Caribbean Bahamian-flagged cruise ship that sailed between its home port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, the US Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and St. Maarten. Royal Caribbean is a Liberian corporation with its principal place of business in Florida.

Alberts became ill while working for Royal Caribbean and sued for maintenance and cure, unseaworthiness, and other claims under the Jones Act. Albert’s employment contract had an arbitration clause. The district court compelled arbitration, and Alberts appealed.

Under FAA § 202, the court was required to compel arbitration if Alberts’s contract “envisages performance … abroad.” Alberts argued that “abroad” means “in one or more foreign states.” Royal Caribbean argued that it means “outside a country.” Alberts’s job was performed entirely in international waters. Hence the question.

The court adopted neither party’s definition. In United States v. Hutchins, 151 U.S. 542 (1894), a case about reimbursement of travel expenses for naval officers, the Court held that an officer who traveled by steamer from San Francisco to New York did not travel abroad, focusing on the termini of the journey rather than the route taken. Royal Caribbean’s definition is contrary to Hutchins because it would make a voyage from New York to California by sea a voyage “abroad.” Alberts’s definition failed the test because the vessel made stops in foreign countries. The court construed “abroad” to mean “in or traveling to or from a foreign state.” Under this definition, Alberts’s contract envisaged performance abroad, and the court therefore affirmed.

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