ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cruise Ship Room Attendant Scores Victory v. John Travolta and then Voluntarily Dismisses Suit

Royal Carribean Cruise ShipPlaintiff Fabian Zanzi alleged that John Travolta sexually assualted and battered him while Zanzi was attending to him aboard a Royal Carribean Cruise ship.  In the District Court for the Central District of California, Travolta moved to compel arbitration based on his cruise ticket and Zanzi's employment agreement.  On February 1, 2013, as posted on The Hollywood Reporterthe District Court denied Travolta's motion to compel arbitration

The District Court rejected Travolta's arguments that Zanzi was bound by the arbitration clause in Travolta's ticket because Zanzi, as a non-signatory to the agreement contained in that ticket could not be bound to arbitrate under it.  While the court recognized certain exceptions to the rule against binding non-signatories, it found none of them applicable on these facts.  

The court similarly rejected Travolta's argument that Zanzi could be bound by the arbitration clause in Travolta's ticket because Zanzi was an agent of Royal Carribean, a signatory.  The court noted that "a non-signatory employee is bound to arbitrate under 'agency principles' only to the extent that its principal signed an arbitration agreement with the authority to bind the employee in his individual capacity."  Zanzi never authorized his employer to divest him of his right to bring personal claims.  

Travolta next argued that Zanzi should be bound by Travolta's ticket's arbitration clause because Zanzi was a third-party beneficiary to the agreement contained in the ticket.  The court rejected Travolta's third-party beneficiary theory, finding that the agreement benefits Royal Caribbean and shields it from liability.  Any benefits flowing to Zanzi from the ticket are indirect and incidental.

In the alternative, Travolta argued that Zanzi should be estopped from litigating his claims against Travolta in court while also litigating related claims against Royal Caribbean through arbitration as required under Zanzi's employment agreement.  Here, Zanzi is a signatory to the agreement; Travolta is not.  Travolta contended that estoppel applied because Zanzi had "alleged substantially interdependent and concerted misconduct by the nonsignatory Defendant and signatory Royal Caribbean."  The court found that characterization inaccurate.  Zanzi alleged sexual assault and battery against Travolta; his allegations against Royal Caribbean relate to how his employers treated him after he reported Travolta's alleged misconduct.  Zanzi claimed that he had been confined for five days until Travolta disembarked.  In his dispute with Royal Caribbean, Zanzi is claiming false imprisonment and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.  The two sets of claims relate to separate acts that occurred at different times and there are no allegations that the parties acted in concert.  

Days after this decision was issued, as reported in the Daily Mail online, Zanzi announced that he was dropping his suit, citing litigation costs.  Travolta's lawyers dismsses Zanzi's allegations as an attempt to gain fame and money by selling the story to the media.


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