Garcia-Bengochea v. Carnival Corp., 20-12960

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM:
PartiesJAVIER GARCIA-BENGOCHEA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CARNIVAL CORPORATION, a foreign corporation d.b.a. Carnival Cruise Lines, Defendant-Appellee. JAVIER GARCIA-BENGOCHEA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES, LTD., Defendant-Appellee.
Docket Number20-12960,20-14251
Decision Date23 November 2022


CARNIVAL CORPORATION, a foreign corporation d.b.a. Carnival Cruise Lines, Defendant-Appellee.



Nos. 20-12960, 20-14251

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

November 23, 2022

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:19-cv-21725-JLK, 1:19-cv-23592-JLK


Before JORDAN and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges, and BURKE, [*] District Judge.



When Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959, most Cubans who fled to the United States hoped that they would one day return to their homeland. But many would never again see the beaches of Varadero or stroll along the Malecon. They built homes and lives in the United States, never forgetting what they left behind on an island just 90 miles off the coast of Key West.

In 1996, Congress enacted the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, 22 U.S.C. §§ 6021 et seq. (known as the "Helms-Burton Act"), in an attempt to provide a means of compensation for some of the losses suffered as a result of the Castro regime's actions. As relevant here, Title III of the Act provides a private cause of action for U.S. nationals against those who knowingly traffic in property expropriated by the Cuban government after the start of the Cuban Revolution. See § 6082(a)(1)(A).

Title III remained dormant for 23 years, and through three different administrations, because it was suspended by Presidential decree. See § 6085(b)(1) (granting the President the authority to suspend the effective date of Title III if suspension is "necessary to the national interests of the United States"). But in May of 2019, President Trump lifted the suspension, making Title III fully effective. President Biden, since taking office, has not suspended Title III and it therefore remains in effect today.

This appeal concerns a number of issues pertaining to claims brought under Title III. First, does the plaintiff, Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea,


have Article III standing to assert his claims against Carnival and Royal Caribbean? Second, has Dr. Garcia-Bengochea stated plausible Title III claims? We heard oral argument on these matters, invited the Department of Justice to file an amicus curiae brief addressing certain questions about the Act, and permitted the parties to respond to that brief.

We conclude that Dr. Garcia-Bengochea has standing to assert his Title III claims, but that those claims fail on the merits. We therefore affirm the district court's grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of Carnival and Royal Caribbean.


We begin with an overview of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act and then pivot to the allegations in Dr. Garcia-Bengochea's complaints. Given that this case was resolved at the pleading stage, we accept those allegations as true and draw reasonable inferences in Dr. Garcia-Bengochea's favor. See Glynn Env't Coal., Inc. v. Sea Island Acquisition, LLC, 26 F.4th 1235, 1240 (11th Cir. 2022).


In response to the takings of American property in Cuba by the Castro regime, Congress amended the International Claims Settlement Act of 1949 with the Cuban Claims Act of 1964, 22 U.S.C. §§ 1643-1643k. The Cuban Claims Act authorized the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to gather information for an eventual negotiation on claims of confiscated properties in Cuba. The Commission reviewed the applications of U.S. corporate and


individual claimants and certified as legitimate nearly 6,000 claims valued at about $1.9 billion. See Sylvia M. Becker &Patrick Hovakimian, Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the U.S., United States Department of Justice (updated April 21, 2022) (available at In 2005 and 2006 the Commission, pursuant to a subsequent grant of statutory authority, conducted a second round of claims review. See Pub. L. 105-277, § 2211, 112 Stat. 2681-812. Cuba and the United States, however, have never reached a settlement on these claims (or, for that matter, on claims by Cuba against the United States). See generally Richard E. Feinberg, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity, Latin America Initiative at Brookings, at 2-15 (December 2015).

In 1996, Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act in part "to protect United States nationals against confiscatory takings and the wrongful trafficking in property confiscated by the Castro regime." 22 U.S.C. § 6022(6). Title III of the Act aims to deter "trafficking in confiscated property" with the purpose of "protect[ing] the claims of United States nationals who had property wrongfully confiscated by" the Cuban government. See § 6081(6)(B).

Specifically, Title III provides "United States nationals who were the victims of th[o]se confiscations . . . with a judicial remedy in the courts of the United States." § 6081(11). To that end, it establishes a private right of action for "any United States national who owns the claim to [confiscated property]" against "any person that . . . traffics in [such] property." § 6082(a)(1)(A). A United States


national is "any United States citizen" or "any other legal entity. . . organized under the laws of the United States, or of any State, the District of Columbia, or any commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States, and which has its principal place of business in the United States." § 6023(15)(A)-(B).[1]

A person "traffics" in confiscated property if that person knowingly and intentionally:

(i) sells, transfers, distributes, dispenses, brokers, manages, or otherwise disposes of confiscated property, or purchases, leases, receives, possesses, obtains control of, manages, uses, or otherwise acquires or holds an interest in confiscated property,
(ii) engages in a commercial activity using or otherwise benefiting from confiscated property, or
(iii) causes, directs, participates in, or profits from, trafficking (as described in clause (i) or (ii)) by another
person, or otherwise engages in trafficking (as described in clause (i) or (ii)) through another person,
without the authorization of any United States national who holds a claim to the property.

§ 6023(13).


Dr. Garcia-Bengochea is a U.S. citizen and a U.S. national as that term is defined in 22 U.S.C. § 6023(15). He claims to be the "rightful owner of an 82.5% interest in certain commercial waterfront real property in the Port of Santiago de Cuba," identified by the Cuban government as La Mantima and Terminal Naviera. See CC D.E. 1 at ¶ 6; RC D.E. 1 at ¶ 7.[2]

The Cuban government nationalized, expropriated, and seized ownership of La Mantima on October 13, 1960, via Cuba's Gazette Law 890, and maintains possession of the property today. It has not paid any compensation to Dr. Garcia-Bengochea or anyone else for its seizure or use and the claim to the property has not been resolved pursuant to an international claims settlement or other settlement procedure. Dr. Garcia-Bengochea has never abandoned his legitimate interest in the property. See CC D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 7-9; RC D.E. 1 at ¶ 8-10.


The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission-pursuant to the International Claims Settlement Act-certified a portion of Dr. Garcia-Bengochea's ownership interest in La Mantima when it adjudicated the claim of his cousin, Albert Parreno. This portion represents Dr. Garcia-Bengochea's 32.5% interest in the property, and was valued by the Commission in 1970 at $289,549.92. See CC D.E. 1-1 at 6. The remaining portion of Dr. Garcia-Bengochea's interest in the property is based upon an uncertified claim. See CC D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 10-11 & Ex. A; RC D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 11-12.[3]

Starting in May of 2016, Carnival knowingly and intentionally conducted its commercial cruise line business to Cuba using La Mantima by regularly embarking and disembarking its passengers there. In the summer of 2018, Royal Caribbean began doing the same. Both cruise lines have used the property without the authorization of Dr. Garcia-Bengochea or any other U.S. national who holds a claim to it. And both cruise lines have profited from the Cuban government's possession of La Mantima, again without the authorization of or payment to Dr. Garcia-Bengochea (or any other U.S. national who holds a claim to the property). See CC D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 12-13; RC D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 13-14.

According to the complaints, the knowing and intentional conduct of Carnival and Royal Caribbean constitutes trafficking


under § 6023(13)(A). As a result, Dr. Garcia-Bengochea-who provided the cruise lines with written notice by certified mail of his intent to commence an action under Title III-claims that he is entitled to damages under § 6082. Those claimed damages are (a) the amount greater of (i) the amount certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, plus interest, or (ii) the amount determined by a special master pursuant to § 6083(a)(2), or (iii) the fair market value of the property, plus interest; and (b) treble damages of the amount determined above. See CC D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 15-16, 20; RC D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 16-17, 21.


Carnival and Royal Caribbean argue for the first time on appeal that Dr. Garcia-Bengochea does not have Article III standing to assert his Title III claim. Despite the late assertion, we are required to address standing because it affects subject-matter jurisdiction, see Florida Ass'n of Med. Equip. Dealers v. Apfel, 194 F.3d 1227, 1230 (11th Cir.1999), and we do so below. Our analysis is plenary. See Muransky v. Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., 979 F.3d 917, 923 (11th Cir. 2020) (en banc).

To have Article III standing, a plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact that can be fairly traced to the defendant's conduct and that can be redressed with a favorable decision. See...

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