Lauro Lines S.R.L. v. Chasser

490 U.S. 495 (1989)

Quick Summary

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Lauro Lines S.R.L. (defendant) owned a cruise ship where passengers, including Chasser (plaintiff), experienced a hijacking incident leading to injuries and death. The plaintiffs sued Lauro Lines in New York, despite a ticket clause designating Naples, Italy as the legal forum for disputes.

The key dispute revolved around whether the denial of Lauro Lines’ motion to dismiss based on this forum-selection clause could be appealed before trial. The Supreme Court ultimately decided that such an order is not immediately appealable, emphasizing the importance of final judgments and the ability to adequately review such decisions after trial.

Facts of the Case

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Plaintiffs, including Chasser and others, were passengers on a cruise ship owned by Lauro Lines s.r.l. (defendant), an Italian company. During their journey, the ship was hijacked by terrorists, which led to the plaintiffs sustaining injuries and the wrongful death of passenger Leon Klinghoffer.

In response, the plaintiffs filed lawsuits in the District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking damages from Lauro Lines for the harm they suffered due to the hijacking. Lauro Lines moved to dismiss these actions, pointing to a forum selection clause on the passenger tickets that stipulated any related lawsuits must be filed in Naples, Italy.

The plaintiffs argued that they were not adequately notified of this clause, which waived their right to sue in a domestic forum. The District Court agreed with the plaintiffs, denying Lauro Lines’ motion to dismiss based on the forum selection clause.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. The plaintiffs filed suit against Lauro Lines s.r.l. in the District Court for the Southern District of New York.
  2. Lauro Lines s.r.l. moved to dismiss the case, citing a forum selection clause.
  3. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that the clause did not provide reasonable notice to passengers.
  4. Lauro Lines s.r.l. attempted to appeal the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
  5. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, stating that the order was interlocutory and not appealable.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether an interlocutory order of a United States District Court denying a defendant’s motion to dismiss based on a contractual forum-selection clause is immediately appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 as a collateral final order.

Rule of Law

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The finality requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 mandates that only final decisions of district courts can be appealed, with a narrow exception for collateral orders that conclusively determine an important issue separate from the merits and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The Supreme Court held that an order denying a motion to dismiss based on a forum-selection clause does not end litigation on the merits and thus is not a final decision under § 1291. The Court reasoned that while such an order ensures litigation will continue, it does not satisfy the requirements for immediate appeal under the collateral order doctrine. Specifically, it fails the third condition: being effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.

Furthermore, the Court emphasized that additional litigation expenses alone do not justify immediate appealability. The asserted right must be such that if not immediately vindicated, it would be effectively lost. The right to be sued only in a particular forum can still be protected through appeal after final judgment, distinguishing it from rights that confer immunity from suit or trial altogether.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision, holding that an interlocutory order denying enforcement of a contractual forum-selection clause is not immediately appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

Key Takeaways

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  1. An order denying a motion to dismiss based on a forum-selection clause is not considered a final decision under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and thus is not immediately appealable.
  2. The collateral order doctrine allows for immediate appeal only when a right would be irreparably lost if review had to wait until after final judgment; this does not typically apply to rights regarding forum selection.
  3. The right to enforce a forum-selection clause can be adequately protected through an appeal after final judgment rather than requiring immediate appealability.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors determine the enforceability of a forum-selection clause in a contract?

Enforceability of a forum-selection clause hinges on its clarity, whether it was fairly communicated to all parties, and if it is reasonable and just under the circumstances. Courts analyze whether the clause was a product of overreaching or unfairly disadvantages one party.

  • For example: A ticket for an international event states in fine print on the back that any disputes must be litigated in the country where the event organizer is based. A court would assess if the ticket purchaser had a reasonable opportunity to understand this term, its impact, and if any undue pressure was exerted.

How might litigation costs influence a court's decision to enforce forum-selection clauses?

While courts recognize that litigation costs can be burdensome, they generally do not consider these costs alone to outweigh the enforcement of a valid forum-selection clause, unless the costs are so prohibitive as to deprive one party of a fair opportunity to litigate.

  • For example: If enforcing a forum-selection clause would require a small business to litigate in a distant country, resulting in costs that exceed the business’s annual revenue, a court might find the enforcement unreasonable.

Under what conditions could a forum-selection clause be considered null and void?

A forum-selection clause may be rendered null and void if it results from fraud or overreaching, violates public policy, or its enforcement would effectively deprive one party of their day in court due to extreme inconvenience or unfairness.

  • For example: If a tour company includes a clause requiring any legal actions to take place in a remote jurisdiction with no connection to where services were provided or parties reside, such terms might be disregarded as unconscionable or against public policy.


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