Havana Docks Corp. v. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd.

Citation454 F.Supp.3d 1259
Decision Date14 April 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 19-cv-23591-BLOOM/Louis
Parties HAVANA DOCKS CORPORATION, Plaintiff, v. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE HOLDINGS, LTD., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Aziza F. Elayan-Martinez, Stephanie Anne Casey, Zachary Andrew Lipshultz, Roberto Martinez, Colson Hicks Eidson, Coral Gables, FL, for Plaintiff.

Allen Paige Pegg, Richard C. Lorenzo, Hogan Lovells LLP, Miami, FL, for Defendant.

ORDER

BETH BLOOM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Plaintiff Havana Docks Corporation's ("Havana Docks" or "Plaintiff") Motion for Reconsideration and Leave to Amend, ECF No. [44] ("Motion"), and its accompanying Notice of Filing the Declaration of Aziza Elayan-Martinez in Support of Plaintiff's Motion, ECF No. [43] ("Notice"). Defendant Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd. ("NCL") filed a response in opposition, ECF No. [48] ("Response"), to which Plaintiff replied, ECF No. [51] ("Reply"). On March 9, 2020, the Court held a hearing on the Motion, during which the parties argued their respective positions. The Court has carefully considered the Motion, all supporting and opposing submissions, the arguments presented at the hearing, the record in this case, the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 27, 2019, Havana Docks initiated this action against NCL pursuant to Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, 22 U.S.C. § 6021, et seq. (the "LIBERTAD Act," "Title III," or the "Act"), which is commonly referred to as the Helms-Burton Act. ECF No. [1] ("Complaint"). The Court briefly reiterates the facts alleged in the instant case.

Havana Docks is a U.S. national, as defined by 22 U.S.C. § 6023(15), and "is the rightful owner of an interest in and claim to certain commercial waterfront real property in the Port of Havana, Cuba," identified as the Havana Cruise Port Terminal (the "Subject Property"). Id. ¶ 7. In addition, the Complaint alleges that Plaintiff continuously owned, possessed, and used the Subject Property from 1917 until the Cuban Government confiscated it in 1960, id. ¶ 8, and that, since the confiscation, the Subject Property has not been returned, nor has Havana Docks received adequate and effective compensation for the confiscation of the Subject Property, id. ¶ 10.

Plaintiff's ownership interest in and claim to the Subject Property has been certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (the "FCSC") pursuant to the International Claims Settlement Act of 1949, 22 U.S.C. § 1621, et seq. (the "Claims Settlement Act"). Id. ¶ 12.1 In the Certified Claim, which is central to the dispute between the parties in this action, the FCSC found, based on the record before it, that:

[Havana Docks] obtained from the Government of Cuba the renewal of a concession for the construction and operation of wharves and warehouses in the harbor of Havana, formerly granted to its predecessor concessionaire, the Port of Havana Docks Company; that claimant acquired at the same time the real property with all improvements and appurtenances located on the Avenida del Puerto between Calle Amargura and Calle Santa Clara in Havana, facing the Bay of Havana; ... and that claimant corporation also owned the mechanical installations, loading and unloading equipment, vehicles and machinery, as well as furniture and fixtures located in the offices of the corporation.

ECF No. [43-8] at 7. Critically, the FCSC also stated that "[t]he terms of the concession granted by the Cuban Government were to expire in the year 2004, at which time the corporation had to deliver the piers to the government in good state of preservation." Id. at 9.

Moreover, according to the Complaint, beginning on or about March 2017, and continuing for at least two years thereafter, NCL "knowingly and intentionally commenced, conducted, and promoted its commercial cruise line business to Cuba using the Subject Property by regularly embarking and disembarking its passengers on the Subject Property without the authorization of Plaintiff or any U.S. national who holds a claim to the Subject Property." ECF No. [1] ¶ 13. Thus, NCL is alleged to have participated in, and profited from, the Cuban Government's confiscation and possession of the Subject Property without Plaintiff's authorization. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff claims that NCL's knowing and intentional conduct relating to the Subject Property constitutes "trafficking," as defined under 22 U.S.C. § 6023(13)(A), and that NCL is liable to Plaintiff for all money damages allowed by statute. ECF No. [1] ¶¶ 15-16.

A. The LIBERTAD Act

Since Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, Cuba has been plagued by "communist tyranny and economic mismanagement," that has substantially deteriorated the welfare and health of the Cuban people. See 22 U.S.C. §§ 6021(1)(A), (2). This communist Cuban Government has systematically repressed the Cuban people through, among other things, "massive and systemic violations of human rights" and deprivations of fundamental freedoms, see id. §§ 6021(4), (24), and the United States has consistently sought to impose effective international sanctions for these violations against the Castro regime, see id. §§ 6021(8) - (10).

In 1996, Congress passed the LIBERTAD Act "to strengthen international sanctions against the Castro government" and, relevant to the instant case, "to protect United States nationals against confiscatory takings and the wrongful trafficking in property confiscated by the Castro regime." 22 U.S.C. §§ 6022(2), (6). To that end, under Title III of the Act, Congress denounced the Cuban government's history of confiscating property of Cuban citizens and U.S. nationals, explaining that "[t]he wrongful confiscation or taking of property belonging to United States nationals by the Cuban Government, and the subsequent exploitation of this property at the expense of the rightful owner, undermines the comity of nations, the free flow of commerce, and economic development." 22 U.S.C. §§ 6081(2) - (3). The Act explains that foreign investors who traffic in confiscated properties through the purchase of equity interests in, management of, or entry into joint ventures with the Cuban Government to use such properties "complicate any attempt to return [these expropriated properties] to their original owners." Id. §§ 6081(5), (7). The LIBERTAD Act cautions that:

[t]his "trafficking in confiscated property provides badly needed financial benefit, including hard currency, oil, and productive investment and expertise, to the current Cuban Government and thus undermines the foreign policy of the United States—
(A) to bring democratic institutions to Cuba through the pressure of a general economic embargo at a time when the Castro regime has proven to be vulnerable to international economic pressure; and
(B) to protect the claims of United States nationals who had property wrongfully confiscated by the Cuban Government.

Id. §§ 6081(6)(A)-(B).

Further, the lack of effective international remedies for the wrongful confiscation of property and for unjust enrichment from the use of that property by foreign governments at the expense of the rightful owners left U.S. citizens without protection against wrongful confiscations by foreign nations and their citizens. Id. § 6081(10). Congress therefore concluded that, "[t]o deter trafficking in wrongfully confiscated property, United States nationals who were the victims of these confiscations should be endowed with a judicial remedy in the courts of the United States that would deny traffickers any profits from economically exploiting Castro's wrongful seizures." Id. § 6081(11); see also 22 U.S.C. § 6082(a)(1)(A). As a result, in passing Title III of the LIBERTAD Act, "Congress created a private right of action against any person who ‘traffics’ in confiscated Cuban property." Garcia-Bengochea v. Carnival Corp. , 407 F. Supp. 3d 1281, 1284 (S.D. Fla. 2019) (citing 22 U.S.C. § 6082(a)(1)(A) ; 22 U.S.C. § 6023(13)(A) ). As that court observed:

Shortly after Helms-Burton was passed, however, the President invoked Title Ill's waiver provision, and "Title III has since been waived every six months, ... and has never effectively been applied." Odebrecht Const., Inc. v. Prasad , 876 F. Supp. 2d 1305, 1312 (S.D. Fla. 2012). That changed on April 17, 2019, when the U.S. Department of State announced that the federal government "will no longer suspend Title III." See U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo's Remarks to the Press (Apr. 17, 2019), https://www.state.gov/remarks-to-the-press-11/. As a result, Title III became effective for the first time on May 2, 2019....

Id.

B. Relevant Proceedings

On the same day that the suspension of Title III was lifted, Havana Docks filed one of the first actions in the nation asserting a claim under the Act for trafficking against Carnival Corporation ("Carnival"). See generally Complaint, Havana Docks Corp. v. Carnival Corp. , No. 19-cv-21724 (S.D. Fla. May 2, 2019), ECF No. [1] ("Carnival "). The Complaint in Carnival alleged substantially similar facts as those alleged in the instant case, except that the trafficking alleged in Carnival began in May 2016. See generally id. ; id. ¶ 12. On May 30, 2019, Carnival filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing in relevant part that Havana Docks failed to state a claim under the LIBERTAD Act because the Complaint and the Certified Claim attached as an exhibit indicated that Havana Docks did not have an ownership interest in the Subject Property at the time Carnival began utilizing it. See Motion to Dismiss, Carnival , No. 19-cv-21724 (S.D. Fla. May 30, 2019), ECF No. [17] at 11-15 ("Carnival's Motion to Dismiss"). This Court rejected the argument and agreed with Havana Docks that Carnival's interpretation conflated ownership of an interest in property and ownership of a certified claim...

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