Maa v. Carnival Corp. & PLC

Decision Date21 September 2020
Docket NumberCV 20-6341 DSF (SKx)
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California
PartiesTOYLING MAA, individually and as personal representative of the ESTATE OF WILSON MAA, and the ESTATE OF WILSON MAA, Plaintiffs, v. CARNIVAL CORPORATION & PLC and PRINCESS CRUISE LINES, LTD., Defendants.

Order DENYING Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (Dkt. 24) and GRANTING Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Dkts. 17, 19)

Defendants Carnival Corporation and Carnival plc (erroneously sued as Carnival Corporation & PLC), and Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. move to dismiss Plaintiffs Toyling Maa and the Estate of Wilson Maa's Complaint in its entirety. Dkt. 17-1 (Carnival Mot.); Dkt. 19-1 (Princess Mot.). Plaintiffs oppose, Dkt. 21 (MTD Opp'n), and move to remand, Dkt. 24 (Remand Mot.). Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' motion. Dkt. 29 (Remand Opp'n). The Court deems these matters appropriate for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; Local Rule 7-15. For the reasons stated below, motion to remand is DENIED and the motions to dismiss are GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 5, 2020, Toyling and Wilson Maa set sail on the Coral Princess from San Antonio, Chile. Dkt. 1-1 (Compl.) ¶¶ 2, 12-13. On March 14, 2020, nine days into the cruise, the passengers received the "first notification . . . that anything had changed" when they were "no longer permitted to go ashore at their scheduled ports of call." Id. ¶ 73. No other heightened protective measures were taken and "life aboard the Coral Princess continued as usual." Id. On March 17, 2020, all passengers had their temperatures taken. Id. ¶ 74. On March 19, 2020, the ship arrived at Buenos Aires, Argentina where about 500 passengers were permitted to disembark. Id. ¶ 76. The remaining passengers were informed that the Coral Princess would be departing for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Id. ¶ 78. By March 30, 2020, several passengers had reported feeling ill, including Mr. Maa who had developed a fever. Id. ¶¶ 82, 92. Some were tested for Coronavirus, however, because Coral Princess did not have the ability to obtain test results on the ship, it was unknown at that time if any passengers or staff had the virus. Id. ¶ 82.

On March 31, 2020, Princess provided an update that the medical center on the ship reported a "higher-than-normal number of people presenting influenza-like symptoms." Id. ¶ 83. It then asked passengers to self-isolate in their rooms "given the concern surrounding COVID-19 (coronavirus)." Id. Until that date, passengers enjoyed "free run of the ship." Id. Based on the March 31 update, Mrs. Maa contacted medical staff aboard the ship and a doctor came to her cabin and administered a COVID-19 test to Mr. Maa. Id. ¶ 93. The doctor recommended that Mr. Maa get x-rayed, but the medical staff at the medical center advised that there was no reason to do so. Id. ¶¶ 93- 94. That same day, the ship made a stop in Barbados where 13 test samples were transmitted; 12 of those tests were positive. Id. ¶¶ 84-85. By April 3, 2020, two passengers had died onboard from COVID-19, a fact Defendants failed to disclose. Id. ¶ 86.

The Fort Lauderdale Coast Guard denied permission for the Coral Princess to dock; it finally docked in Miami, Florida on April 4, 2020. Id. ¶¶ 87-88. Passengers requiring immediate medical attention were taken to the hospital, but other passengers were not permitted to disembark until April 6, 2020. Id. ¶ 88. The Maas remained on the boat and on April 4 Mr. Maa was put on oxygen. Id. ¶ 96. Around 2 p.m. medical staff advised that they called an ambulance because theventilator on board was not strong enough. Id. ¶ 98. However, an ambulance was not called until about 9 p.m. Id. ¶¶ 99-101. Mrs. Maa also began exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, chills, and coughing. Id. ¶ 97. At 10 p.m., the ambulance finally arrived and took Mr. Maa to the hospital; he died two hours later. Id. ¶¶ 101-102. Around 4 p.m. the next day, an ambulance took Mrs. Maa to the hospital, id. ¶ 103, where she remained until April 22, 2020, id. ¶ 104. She returned home to California on April 24, 2020. Id. ¶ 105.

Plaintiffs bring two claims for negligence, one of which is a "survivor cause of action."

II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Remand

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction" and "possess only that power authorized by [the] Constitution and statute . . . ." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). A defendant may remove an action to federal court if the federal court could exercise subject matter jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). "The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction" and "[t]he defendant bears the burden of establishing that removal is proper." Provincial Gov't of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 1087 (9th Cir. 2009). If a defendant fails to meet its burden of establishing the Court has subject matter jurisdiction, the suit is remanded. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

B. Motion to Dismiss

Rule 12(b)(6) allows an attack on the pleadings for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. "[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'nakedassertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). A complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. This means that the complaint must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. There must be "sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively . . . and factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation." Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).

Ruling on a motion to dismiss will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not 'show[n]' - 'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (alteration in original) (citation omitted) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). As a general rule, leave to amend a complaint that has been dismissed should be freely granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a).

III. DISCUSSION
A. Motion to Remand

"The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of: (1) Any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled." 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1). The Supreme Court has interpreted the so-called "saving-to-suitors" clause to bar state courts from considering "those maritime causes of action begun and carried on as proceedings in rem" but "leave[s] state courts 'competent' to adjudicate maritime causes of action in proceedings 'in personam.'" Madruga v. Superior Court of State of Cal. in & for San Diego Cty., 346 U.S. 556, 560-61 (1954). "Therefore, a plaintiff with in personammaritime claims has three choices: He may file suit in federal court under the federal court's admiralty jurisdiction, in federal court under diversity jurisdiction if the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy is satisfied, or in state court." Ghotra by Ghotra v. Bandila Shipping, Inc., 113 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 1997). "The same substantive law pertains to the claim regardless of the forum, a type of 'reverse-Erie' to ensure the uniform application of admiralty law." Id. at 1055; see also Adamson v. Port of Bellingham, 907 F.3d 1122, 1126 (9th Cir. 2018) ("[I]f the district court could have maritime jurisdiction over a tort claim, '[s]ubstantive maritime law controls' the claim, 'whatever the forum or asserted basis of jurisdiction.'" (alteration in original) (quoting Unigard Sec. Ins. Co. v. Lakewood Eng'g & Mfg. Corp., 982 F.2d 363, 366 n.1 (9th Cir. 1992))); King v. Alaska S.S. Co., 431 F.2d 994, 996 (9th Cir. 1970) (where a plaintiff "sustained injuries aboard a ship upon navigable waters" that were "caused by conduct which occurred on those waters . . . , the legal rights and liabilities arising from the conduct in question are measurable by the standards of maritime law").1

At least until 2011, it was generally accepted that "saving clause claims brought in state court [we]re not removable under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 absent some other jurisdictional basis, such as diversity or federal question jurisdiction." Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1069 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Dirkse v. Nu Venture Diving Co., No. LA CV17-08554 JAK (MRWx), 2018 WL 6133683, at *3 (C.D. Cal. May 21, 2018) (collecting cases). In 2011, the removal statute was amended in a potentially relevant way. Previously, it permitted removal "without regard to the citizenship or residence of the parties" only where "the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on aclaim or right under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States." See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) (2006). "Any other such action shall be removable only if none of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought." Id. The 2011 amendments removed this limitation. The Ninth Circuit has not yet spoken as to the...

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