Chapparro v. Carnival Corp.: Playing the Game of Pleading Maritime Torts Under the Plausibility Standard

Michael G. Razeeq | Note

A Caribbean cruise ended in chaos on July 12, 2010, when rival gang members exchanged retaliatory gunfire during a funeral near Coki Beach in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. During the altercation, gang members shot and killed an innocent bystander, Liz Marie Perez Chaparro, who was a passenger on vacation aboard the Carnival cruise ship M/V VICTORY. Prior to the arrival of the vessel at St. Thomas, a Carnival employee had recommended to Liz Marie’s father and brother that they visit Coki Beach and Coral World upon disembarking. The plaintiffs followed the advice of the Carnival employee and ventured off to Coki Beach independent of Carnival’s sponsored excursions. At the end of the day at Coki Beach, the Chaparros returned to the ship in an open-air bus. En route to the cruise ship, the bus encountered traffic caused by cars blocking the road while their drivers attended the funeral of a gang member. While stuck in traffic, shooting broke out between rival gang members, and Liz Marie was accidentally shot and killed.

Following the incident, the plaintiffs, Liz Marie’s parents, filed suit against Carnival Corporation in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). The district court found the allegations in the complaint to be more conclusory than factual and dismissed the complaint with leave to amend. Rather than amending their complaint, the plaintiffs appealed the district court’s ruling on the sufficiency of the complaint. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that the plaintiffs had sufficiently pleaded the elements for claims of negligence and NIED. The court held that the plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts to make the claims for relief plausible and reversed the district court’s holding, remanding the case for further proceedings. Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1338 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam).