Short-lived diamond sale will go to trial in ‘gem of a case’

Holland America Line’s ms Eurodam is shown in this 2008 file photo. A passenger’s purchase of a mistakenly discounted diamond in one of the ship’s onboard stores has landed in court.
Holland America Line’s ms Eurodam is shown in this 2008 file photo. A passenger’s purchase of a mistakenly discounted diamond in one of the ship’s onboard stores has landed in court.

Cruise ships tout their shops as outlets where vacationers can make memorable purchases for a good deal.

But the deal passenger Thomas DePrince got during a February 2013 Holland America Line voyage was deemed too good by Starboard Cruise Services, the retail operator that mistakenly gave a $235,000 price tag for a 20.64-carat emerald cut diamond.

More than two years after that transaction was canceled, a Miami-Dade appeals court has ruled that DePrince should have the opportunity to argue in court that the deal should go through.

In a colorful opinion that quotes Mae West and makes reference to the title of a James Bond film, the Third District Court of Appeal sums the situation up this way:

“Now DePrince wants his twenty carat diamond; Starboard wants out of its sales contract; and Starboard’s supplier, who allegedly misquoted the price of the diamond upon which Starboard and DePrince relied, has not even been added as a party to the lawsuit.”

“In short,” the judges added, “this is truly a gem of a case.”

DePrince, a retired antiques and jewelry dealer, lives in the Northeast but has a vacation home in South Florida. He visited the onboard jewelry shop on Holland America’s Eurodam when a salesman recognized him from a previous cruise and asked if he was still interested in a large loose stone, according to Miami attorney Mario M. Ruiz, who is representing DePrince.

When DePrince said he was interested in something between 15 and 20 carats, the store manager emailed Starboard’s corporate office in Doral. Representatives there, in turn, contacted supplier Sophia Fiori Diamonds, which listed two candidates: a 20.64-carat diamond for $235,000 and a 20.73-carat diamond for $245,000.

After thinking it over and consulting his life partner — a certified gemologist who was also on the cruise — and his sister, another gemology expert, DePrince decided to buy the $235,000 gem. That went against the advice of his loved ones, who warned him the “sale price was too good to be true.”

As part of the deal, both sides agreed to have the diamond sent to the Gemological Institute of America’s lab in New York.

It was shortly after DePrince made his order and paid the full price that Starboard realized the supplier meant that the diamond cost $235,000 per carat. The total should have been more than $4.8 million, but Starboard “had inadvertently contracted to sell the diamond to DePrince for less than 1/20th of the diamond’s actual value,” the appeals court wrote.

After five days, Starboard called DePrince and told him the price was “seriously in error,” canceled the transaction and refunded the money.

DePrince filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleging breach of contract and other claims. Starboard asked that the suit be thrown out, and a Miami-Dade judge agreed, noting that “it may be unconscionable to enforce this particular contract.”

But the appeals panel disagreed, noting that “there remain genuine issues of material fact to be resolved,” and sent the case back to trial court.

“We therefore conclude that while some may claim that diamonds are forever, the same cannot be said of the trial court’s summary judgment order,” the Third DCA’s opinion says.

Ruiz said he and his client are asking for a jury trial where they can explain that the contract was nonrefundable.

“Once you sign that contract, a deal is a deal,” he said. “There’s no buyer’s remorse — or in this case, seller’s remorse.”

Attorney Eric Isicoff, who is representing Starboard, said in an email that the company “is understandably disappointed by the court’s decision.”

“Nevertheless, it will do exactly what the court has ruled, take this case to trial and present its defenses in that forum,” he wrote. “Starboard remains confident that it will prevail at trial.”