July 13, 2020

Miami’s district court dismisses Helms-Burton claim against Carnival

On July 9, 2020, the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida’s Miami Division dismissed a lawsuit against the Carnival Corporation, that alleged the cruise line “trafficked” waterfront commercial property in Cuba, in violation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, that allows Americans to sue companies who profit from property confiscated by Cuba’s Castro regime.  The district court granted Carnival’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, siding with Carnival that the plaintiff, Javier Garcia-Bengochea, acquired his property rights after March 12,1996, the effective date of the Helms-Burton Act.

In 2019, Javier Garcia-Bengochea, a US citizen and Florida resident, filed suit against Carnival for using docks located at a commercial waterfront property in the Port of Santiago in Cuba, that Garcia-Bengochea claimed was confiscated by the Cuban Government in October 1960. Carnival challenged the claim, arguing that the plaintiff’s property inheritance was ineffective under Costa Rican law, and the plaintiff also failed to acquire his property interest until after the March 1996 cutoff date in the Helms-Burton Act.  The court determined that Carnival’s argument on the validity of his inheritance under Costa Rican law was premature and insufficient for a motion based only on the pleadings; however, it held that Carnival’s undisputed claim that the plaintiff inherited his property interest in January 2000, clearly after March 12, 1996, barred the action as a matter of law.  Plaintiff’s attempt to distinguish the act of acquiring property under the statute, from the act of inheriting property was unsuccessful, with the court holding that the plain meaning of the word “acquire” in Black’s Law Dictionary 24 (24 6th ed. 1990) includes “taking by devise.”  In addition, the court found that, according to the legislative history of Helms Burton, the act was specifically intended to prevent transfers like the plaintiff’s, that involve the transfer of claims to confiscated Cuban property to US nationals.

Order Granting Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings