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Jackson v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

February 26, 2019

DAVID JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES, LTD, ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE LINES, and OTHER UNKNOWN PARTIES NOT YET IDENTIFIED BY NAME, Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION

          IRMA CARRILLO RAMIREZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         By Special Order No. 3-251, this case was automatically referred for full case management. Before the Court for recommendation are Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s Opposed Motion to Compel Arbitration, filed July 27, 2018 (doc. 8), and David Jackson's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed August 23, 2018 (doc. 14). Based on the relevant filings and applicable law, both motions should be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         David Jackson (Plaintiff) sues Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (Defendant) for breach of contract, breach of implied-in-fact contract, bad faith denial of the existence of a contract, common law fraud, Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act violations, and loss of bargain.

         A. Factual Background

         On January 15, 2017, Plaintiff called Defendant to reserve multiple cabins for a wedding on its ship departing from Galveston, Texas, on January 17, 2018 (January 2018 Cruise). (doc. 1-3 at 2; doc. 15-1 at 1-2.)[1] He spoke with a salesperson for Defendant, who offered a heavily discounted rate for thirty-one cabins if he paid a deposit to secure the reservation. (Id.) Later the same day, Plaintiff received an automated email with an attachment from Defendant. (doc. 15-7 at 17.) The email began with the following statement: “Please find the documents you requested below.” (Id.) The rest of the email provided download instructions as well as the contact information for Defendant's Reservations Department. (Id.)

         The attachment was a booking confirmation for two guests on the January 2018 Cruise and was dated January 15, 2017 (Booking Confirmation). (Id. at 18-20.) The first two pages of the Booking Confirmation contained general information, including the ship, date of the cruise, booking charges, cancellation schedule, booking itinerary, and government passenger requirements. (Id. at 18-19). It noted that a $250 deposit had been paid, and the total amount due was $3, 119.94. (Id. at 18.) The last page of the document contained the following paragraph:

This booking is governed by the terms and conditions of the Cruise/Cruisetour Ticket Contract. A copy of the most current version of that contract can be viewed at www.RoyalCaribbean.com.

         (doc. 15-7 at 20.)[2]

         The Ticket Contract is eleven pages in length. (doc. 8-1 at 4-14.) The second unnumbered paragraph on the first page provides:

THIS AGREEMENT REQUIRES THE USE OF ARBITRATION FOR CERTAIN DISPUTES AND WAIVES ANY RIGHT TO TRIAL BY JURY TO RESOLVE THOSE DISPUTES. PLEASE READ SECTION 10 BELOW.

(Id. at 4.) Section 10, on the seventh page, provides in relevant part:

ARBITRATION OF ALL OTHER CLAIMS: ANY AND ALL OTHER DISPUTES, CLAIMS, OR CONTROVERSIES WHATSOEVER, EXCEPT FOR PERSONAL INJURY, ILLNESS OR DEATH OF A PASSENGER WHETHER BASED ON CONTRACT, TORT, STATUTORY, CONSTITUTIONAL OR OTHER LEGAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ALLEGED VIOLATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS, DISCRIMINATION, CONSUMER OR PRIVACY LAWS, OR FOR ANY LOSSES, DAMAGES OR EXPENSES, RELATING TO OR IN ANY WAY ARISING OUT OF OR CONNECTED WITH THIS CONTRACT OR PASSENGER'S CRUISE, NO MATTER HOW DESCRIBED, PLEADED OR STYLED, SHALL BE REFERRED TO AND RESOLVED EXCLUSIVELY BY BINDING ARBITRATION PURSUANT TO THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RECOGNITION AND ENFORCEMENT OF FOREIGN ARBITRAL AWARDS (NEW YORK 1958), 21 U.S.T. 2517, 330 U.N.T.S. 3, 1970 U.S.T. LEXIS 115, 9 U.S.C. §§ 202-208 ('THE CONVENTION”) AND THE FEDERAL ARBITRATION ACT, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1, ET SEQ., (“FAA”) SOLELY IN MIAMI, FLORIDA, U.S.A. TO THE EXCLUSION OF ANY OTHER FORUM.

(Id. at 10.)

         Plaintiff continued communicating with Defendant's employees regarding its ability to accommodate certain requests for his wedding, and on January 26, 2017, he received a response to those requests by email. (doc. 15-7 at 41-42; 46-47). The email also noted that the rates for additional cabins had increased, but a previously quoted-rate would be honored if Plaintiff would “put the deposits down today.” (doc. 15-7 at 41.) On the same day, Plaintiff spoke with a salesperson on the phone who said that payment of the deposit guaranteed his group reservation, and “nobody could take these cabins from [him].” (doc. 15-1 at 2). He alleges that by paying the deposit, he entered into an oral contract with the salesperson, who “guaranteed [him] the biggest room on the ship along with approximately 30 other cabins at a heavily discounted rate....” (Id.) “The only other term was that [he] had the option of paying the balance due approximately 90 days before sailing or [he] could cancel the cruise with full refund by giving notice of cancellation approximately 90 days before sailing.” (Id.) He claims that at no point during the phone conversation did the salesperson discuss an arbitration agreement or make any reference to the terms and conditions of a ticket contract. (Id.)

         Later the same day, the salesperson emailed Plaintiff that his group reservation was completed. (doc. 15-7 at 26). She confirmed that the discounted rate applied to each cabin and that final payment would be due on October 19, 2017. (Id.) She also confirmed that “all monies are completely refundable all the way up until that date.” (Id.) She stated that she had “transferred [his] individual reservation into [his] group as well.” (Id.) The salesperson noted that she sent Plaintiff a “group invoice” that “summarize[d] [his] group as it stands.” (Id.) She further advised Plaintiff to be on the lookout for a “group agreement” that would be sent to him in the next two days. (Id.) She explained that it “will summarize your group and go over your group amenities a little further.” (Id.) She finally noted that Plaintiff should fill out and return the attached “group function request form” “with all the information for your group event.”[3] (Id.)

         On the same day, Plaintiff received two automated emails from Defendant with attachments, including an invoice (Group Invoice) and receipt (Receipt) for the group reservation on the January 2018 Cruise. (docs. 15-7 at 21-35; 8-1 at 2.) The body of both emails began with the following statement: “Please find the documents you requested below.” (Id. at 25, 35.) Both emails also included download instructions and the contact information for the Reservations Department. (Id.) The Receipt referred to a group reservation for the “Jackson Group” on the January 2018 Cruise. (Id. at 23-24.) It noted that a total payment of $6, 200 was charged, with payment posted on January 27, 2017. (Id.)

         The first page of the 16-page Group Invoice stated that $6, 450 in total payments had been paid. (Id. at 33.) This included the $250 deposit transferred from Plaintiff's individual reservation. (Id.) It listed the net charges for the group reservation at $26, 491.08. (Id.) In a separate paragraph on the bottom of the page was the following statement:

This group booking and each individual booked as part of your group shall be governed by the terms and conditions of the Cruise/Cruisetour Ticket Contract. A copy of the most current version of that contract can be viewed at www.RoyalCaribbean.com.

(Id.)

         On January 27, 2017, Plaintiff received an email from Defendant's Group Support Department containing several attachments, including a Group Cruise Vacation Agreement (Group Agreement). (doc. 15-7 at 7-12.) The email advised Plaintiff to review the Group Agreement and “sign and return it via fax or email by the date indicated.” (Id. at 11.)

         The first page of the Group Agreement stated that the rates quoted would apply thru February 25, 2017, and would be based on inventory availability. (Id. at 7.) The last page of the 4-page agreement included the following statement: “All guests traveling in the Group agree to the terms and conditions as stated in the Cruise Ticket Contract.” (doc. 15-7 at 10.) Unlike the Group Invoice, there were no instructions or comments on how to access or review the terms and conditions in the Cruise Ticket Contract (Ticket Contract). The next paragraph provided:

THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS SET FORTH HERE IN SHALL NOT BE VALID UNLESS THIS AGREEMENT IS EXECUTED BY THE GROUP LEADER AND RETURNED TO THE CRUISELINE, ON OR BEFORE 02/03/2017. THIS AGREEMENT SHALL NOT BE BINDING UPON THE CRUISELINE UNLESS AND UNTIL EXECUTED BY AN AUTHORIZED OFFICER OF THE CRUISELINE.

         (doc. 15-7 at 10.) On the bottom of the last page are blanks for the “group leader's” name, signature, and date, as well as the return address for the executed agreement. (Id.) Plaintiff did not review or execute this agreement. (doc. 15-1 at 2.)

         In February of 2017, Plaintiff continued corresponding with Defendant's employees regarding wedding details, as well as the confirmation of certain requested functions and amenities for the group reservation. (doc. 15-7 at 48-52; 59-60; 62.)

         On May 9, 2017, Plaintiff received four separate automated emails from Defendant. (doc. 15-7 at 102, 122, 135, 141). As with the prior automated emails, the body of each email began with the following statement: “Please find the documents you requested below.” (Id.) The emails also included download instructions for the documents, as well as the contact information for the Reservations Department. (Id.) Attached to each email was a Receipt, two Group Invoices, and a Group Confirmation. (Id. at 100-41.) The Receipt stated that payments totaling $6, 200 were posted on May 10, 2017. (Id. at 100-01.) Both Group Invoices were dated May 9, 2017, and included additional expenses related to the wedding and other requested amenities. (Id. at 105-21; 125-34.) They also contained the same paragraph referencing and incorporating the terms of the Ticket Contract, as well as its availability on Defendant's website. (Id.)

         The Group Confirmation consisted of five pages. (doc. 15-7 at 136-40.) The first four pages of the Group Confirmation contained general information about the itinerary, payment and cancellation schedule, the stateroom numbers, the group amenities booked, and government passenger requirements. (Id. at 136-39.) Under the heading “Other Special Remarks” on the last page of the document, was the following paragraph:

This group booking and each individual booked as part of your group shall be governed by the terms and conditions of the Cruise/Cruisetour Ticket Contract. A copy of the most current version of that contract can be viewed at www.RoyalCaribbean.com/cruiseticketcontract.

(Id. at 140.) Unlike the notice paragraphs contained in the other documents, this paragraph provided the direct URL address to the Ticket Contract, and the website address was underlined. (Id.)

         On October 2, 2017, Plaintiff called Defendant to transfer his reservation from the January 2018 Cruise to another ship departing from Galveston on September 17, 2018 (September 2018 Cruise). (docs. 15-1 at 2; 8-1 at 2.)[4] As with the prior reservation, the parties orally agreed that Plaintiff would be guaranteed thirty-one cabins at a “heavily discounted rate” if he paid a deposit to secure the reservation. (doc. 15-1 at 2-3.) The salesperson confirmed that the new reservation would be subject to the same terms agreed to in the previous reservation. (Id. at 4.) The parties also orally agreed that Plaintiff was to pay the remaining balance approximately ninety days before the departure date. (Id. at 2-3.) Per Plaintiff's request, Defendant cancelled the reservation on the January 2018 Cruise and transferred his deposit to a new group reservation on the September 2018 Cruise. (docs. 15-1 at 4; 8-1 at 2.) Plaintiff maintains that at no point during the phone conversation did the salesperson discuss an arbitration agreement, or reference the terms and conditions of a ticket contract. (doc. 15-1 at 3-4.)

         Later the same day, Plaintiff received four automated emails from Defendant with attachments, including a Confirmation of Cancellation of the January 2018 Cruise, as well as a Group Invoice, Guest Manifest, and Receipt for the September 2018 Cruise. (doc. 15-7 at 74-98.) As with other automated emails sent to Plaintiff, the body of each email began with the following statement: “Please find the documents you requested below.” (Id. at 78, 79, 81, 98.) Each email also included download instructions and the contact information for the Reservations Department. (Id.)

         The Receipt identified the September 2018 Cruise and noted that $6, 450 in payments were posted on October 3, 2017. (doc. 15-7 at 74-77.) The first page of the 16-page Group Invoice was a summary of the new reservation. (Id. at 82-97.) The net charge for the September 2018 Cruise was listed at $18, 905.20. (Id. at 82.) The total amount of payments on record was $12, 650, and the remaining balance due was $6, 255.20. (Id.) Like the group invoice for the January 2018 Cruise, the bottom of the first page included the same language:

This group booking and each individual booked as part of your group shall be governed by the terms and conditions of the Cruise/Cruisetour Ticket Contract. A copy of the most current version of that contract can be viewed at www.RoyalCaribbean.com.

(Id.)

         Plaintiff also received an updated Group Agreement for the September 2018 Cruise with blanks for his name and signature and the date. (doc. 15-7 at 69-72.) The standard terms of the Group Agreement remained the same, and it also included the following statement on the last page of the 4-page agreement: “All guests traveling in the Group agree to the terms and conditions as stated in the Cruise Ticket Contract.” (doc. 15-7 at 72.) There were no instructions or comments on how to access or review the terms and conditions in the Ticket Contract, however. The Group Agreement further provided that Plaintiff was to execute and return it to Defendant on or before October 11, 2017. (Id.) Plaintiff did not review or execute this agreement, however. (doc. 15-1 at 7.)

         In January 2018, [5] Defendant notified Plaintiff that it was cancelling his reservation because it was repositioning the ship for the September 2018 Cruise to another port. (docs. 15-1 at 4.) Defendant offered Plaintiff either a full refund of the cruise or to re-book his group on another cruise. (docs. 15-1 5-6; 8-1 at 3.) Defendant claims it offered him “a $100 credit per standard stateroom and a $200 credit for suites” if he agreed to re-book on another cruise. (doc. 8-1 at 3.) Plaintiff claims that “at no time did [Defendant] offer $100 per stateroom or $350 per suites to me.” (doc. 15-1 at 6.) Plaintiff did not re-book on another cruise, and on January 18, 2018, Defendant refunded the $12, 650 he paid for the group reservation. (doc. 8-1 at 3.)

         B. Procedural History

         On May 21, 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Defendant in the 116th District Court of Dallas County, Texas, claiming breach of contract, breach of implied-in-fact contract, bad faith denial of the existence of a contract, common law fraud, Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act violations, and loss of bargain. (See doc. 1-3.) On June 28, 2018, Defendant removed this action to federal court on the basis of federal question, diversity of citizenship, and admiralty jurisdiction. (See doc. 1.)

         On July 27, 2018, Defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration before any other motions or discovery requests were filed. (doc. 8.) On August 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed his response. (doc. 10.) Plaintiff was granted leave to amend his response, which he filed on August 23, 2018. (docs. 15, 16.) On ...


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