Lauro Lines v. Chasser
490 U.S. 495 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lauro Lines v. Chasser, 490 U.S. 495 (1989)

Lauro Lines v. Chasser

No. 88-23

Argued April 17, 1989

Decided May 22, 1989

490 U.S. 495

Syllabus

Respondents -- passengers and representatives of the estates of passengers on a cruise ship hijacked by terrorists -- filed suit in the District Court against petitioner, the ship's owner, to recover damages for personal injuries and for the wrongful death of one passenger. Before trial, petitioner moved to dismiss the actions, citing the forum-selection clause printed on each passenger ticket, which purported to obligate passengers to institute any suit in connection with the contract in Italy and to renounce the right to sue elsewhere. The District Court denied the motions, holding that the ticket did not give passengers reasonable notice that they were waiving the opportunity to sue in a domestic forum. The Court of Appeals dismissed petitioner's appeal on the ground that the District Court's dismissal orders were interlocutory, and not appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, holding that the orders did not fall within the exception to the rule of nonappealability carved out by the collateral order doctrine.

Held: An interlocutory order denying a defendant's motion to dismiss a damages action on the basis of a contractual forum-selection clause is not immediately appealable under § 1291. Such an order is not final in the usual sense, for it does not end the litigation on the merits but, on the contrary, ensures that the litigation will continue. Nor does the order fall within the narrow exception to the normal application of the final judgment rule known as the collateral order doctrine, for the order is not effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment. The right to be sued only in a particular forum, as compared to the right to avoid suit altogether, although not perfectly secured by an appeal after final judgment, is sufficiently vindicable at that stage and is not essentially destroyed if vindication is postponed until trial is completed. Moreover, the costs associated with unnecessary litigation, should it eventually be decided that the District Court erred in trying the case, do not warrant allowing an immediate appeal of a pretrial order. That there may be a policy favoring enforcement of foreign forum-selection clauses goes to the merits of petitioner's claim that its ticket agreement requires that suit be filed in Italy and that the agreement should be enforced by the federal courts, but does not affect the appealability of a prejudgment

Page 490 U. S. 496

order, which turns on the contours of the right asserted, not on the likelihood of eventual success on the merits.

844 F.2d 50, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion.

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Primary Holding

A prejudgment order can be challenged on appeal only when it conclusively determined a disputed question, resolves a critical issue that can be completely disconnected from the inquiry into the merits, and cannot be reviewed by an appeal from a final judgment.

Facts

The Achille Lauro, a ship operated by Lauro Lines, was hijacked by terrorists in the Mediterranean Sea. Passengers, including Chasser, brought a claim against Lauro for personal injuries. In seeking to dismiss their claim, Lauro pointed out that their tickets contained a forum-selection clause that restricted passenger lawsuits to being brought in Naples, Italy. However, the federal district court ruled that this was not adequate notice to the passengers that they were giving up their right to sue in the United States. This order was ruled to be interlocutory rather than appealable by the appellate court.

Opinions

Majority

  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Sandra Day O'Connor
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • Antonin Scalia

If an order addresses an asserted right that would lose its value if it is not established before trial, the order may be considered effectively unreviewable on final judgment. An interlocutory appeal may be appropriate if the right is not an ultimate right that relates to the merits of the case. Since this right concerned the authority of a certain forum to hear the case, it would not be lost because it could be used in appealing a judgment against the defendant. Once the case reached a final resolution, an appellate court still could vacate a judgment in the trial court and require that the case be refiled in Naples.

Concurrence

  • Antonin Scalia (Author)

The right of forum selection is not important enough to justify addressing it on an interlocutory appeal, which should be reserved for especially important rights.

Case Commentary

Some of the orders that can be appealed under this collateral order rule are denials of motions to dismiss based on official immunity, orders requiring class action defendants to bear the costs of notifying members of the plaintiff class, and orders denying the right of a criminal defendant not to be tried.

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