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FEINGOLD v. CUNARD LINE LTD.

May 3, 1991

MANUEL FEINGOLD, ELLEN FEINGOLD, MICHELE FEINGOLD AND JENNIFER FEINGOLD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CUNARD LINE LIMITED, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garrett E. Brown, Jr., District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This breach of contract action is presently before the Court upon defendant Cunard Line Limited's motion for summary judgment. This Memorandum and Order issued pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78 resolves this motion. Because we hold that the complaint in this case is barred by the applicable time limitation for such a suit, we will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

The Complaint in this action was filed on January 11, 1989, by Manuel, Ellen, Michele and Jennifer Feingold against Cunard Line Limited. Jurisdiction of this Court was invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The Complaint alleges that on or about December 19, 1987, plaintiffs embarked on the Queen Elizabeth II ocean liner for a Caribbean cruise, pursuant to a contract with defendant. It is further alleged that defendant breached its agreement with plaintiffs by providing inferior services and failing to provide other services.*fn1 Plaintiffs also alleged that defendant fraudulently concealed the results of a Department of Health and Human Services sanitation inspection from them. Plaintiffs have requested $34,000 on each of the two causes of action.

DISCUSSION

The first question we must address is which law to apply. Despite the plaintiffs having originally filed this action under diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), we are not constrained by Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938), to apply state law. Hodes v. S.N.C. Achille Lauro ed Altri-Gestione, 858 F.2d 905, 909 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. dismissed sub nom., 490 U.S. 1001, 109 S.Ct. 1633, 104 L.Ed.2d 149 (1989). A passenger ticket for an ocean voyage constitutes a maritime contract. Id. at 909 (citing The Moses Taylor, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 411, 427, 18 L.Ed. 397 (1866)). "Accordingly, whether ticket conditions form part of the passenger's contract and the effect such conditions should be afforded are matters governed by the general maritime, not the local state, law." Id.

The question presented to the Court for summary judgment, therefore, is whether plaintiffs are time-barred, as a matter of law, from asserting their breach of contract claims after the time limit outlined in the passenger contract ticket has expired. The standards for summary judgment are well known. Summary judgment may be granted only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party receives the benefit of all reasonable doubts and any inferences drawn from the underlying facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) also requires that when a non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial as to a dispositive issue, that party is required to go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. For an issue of fact to be genuine, the non-moving party must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. at 1355-56. Issues of material fact are genuine only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

Defendant's motion for summary judgment relies upon a six-month time limitation for filing suit which is set forth in a provision of the "Passenger Ticket & Passage Contract" alleged to have been issued to plaintiffs. This provision, Article 21 reads as follows:

  Art. 21 — TIME LIMIT ON SUITS Suit
  to recover on any claim against the Company shall
  be instituted: . . . (2) as to all other claims,
  including breach of contract, within 6 months from
  the passenger's arrival at destination, or in the
  case of non-arrival, from the day on which the
  passenger and/or the baggage should have arrived.

Plaintiffs have not argued that the contractual limitation on the time for filing suit contained in the Passenger Ticket & Passage Contract was not reasonably communicative, nor have they challenged the six-month time limit as unenforceable.*fn3 All that plaintiff Manuel Feingold has claimed is that he did not recall having received the passenger contract, nor does he recall having given a ticket to the embarkation officer when he and his family boarded the vessel. Defendant, on the other hand, has extensively documented, through the submission of physical and testimonial evidence, the existence of two sets of tickets that it claims had been issued to and received from plaintiffs.

A total of ten out of a possible twelve coupons were collected from the two ticket passage contracts alleged to have been issued to the plaintiffs. See Exhibits 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12.*fn4 These coupons were all retrieved from the Cunard system long after the voyage had ended. Brendan Vierra, Cunard's Vice-President for Order Processing, also produced and explained the booking records of Mr. and Mrs. Feingold (for their ticket # 192538/01/01) and the Misses Feingold (for their ticket # 192530/01/01). Vierra Dep. at 14-22 & Exh. 6. He explained that the passenger tickets were issued on or about December 9, 1987; that they were set up for office pick up on the 10th of December 1987, with a notice to collect final payment; and that final payment was received on December 14, 1987. Id. at 21.

Mrs. Lennon also testified that she is unaware of any circumstance, since 1978, in which a passenger has gotten on the vessel without a ticket. Id. at 17. She stated that if a passenger does show up to the pier without a ticket, a manual ticket is prepared at that time and given to ...


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