Legal sparring continues over feds, FL, and cruise ship industry; next step is appeals court

By: - July 8, 2021 2:12 pm

A Carnival cruise ship is docked at PortMiami, one of five Florida seaports where cruiselines operate. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The federal government has filed an appeal of a Tampa federal judge’s epic ruling saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went overboard in controlling the cruise ship industry.

The ruling led to an injunction, to take force on July 18, barring the CDC from imposing regulations designed to prevent transmission of COVID-19 aboard cruise ships.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday ruled on June 18 that the public health agency had overstepped its authority in issuing a “conditional sailing order” requiring cruises either to run test voyages deploying COVID precautions or to require that 98 percent of their crew and 95 percent of their passengers be vaccinated.

The Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Courthouse in Atlanta, home to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday, the government took the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit based in Atlanta. Its motion argues the regulations were well within public health authorities’ traditional powers to prevent ships from introducing contagions through the country’s ports.

The state sued over the regulations, with Gov. Ron DeSantis blaming them for sequestering a major state industry. He has blocked any business — cruise lines included — from requiring proof of vaccination that might reassure passengers.

“By contrast, Florida is actively impairing the cruise ship industry’s ability to resume operations. Florida law prohibits cruise ship operators from requiring documentation of vaccinated status. Florida is thus impeding the cruise industry’s ability to offer highly vaccinated cruises, which both the industry and the traveling public see as desirable,” the motion reads.

Also on Wednesday, Merryday rejected a CDC motion that he further delay his injunction.

“Although CDC invariably garnishes the argument with dire prospects of transmission of COVID-19 aboard a cruise vessel, these dark allusions dismiss state and local health authorities, the industry’s self-regulation, and the thorough and costly preparations and accommodations by all concerned to avoid transmission and to confine and control the transmission, if one occurs,” Merryday wrote.

“In other words, CDC can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power. More to the point, this action is not about what health precautions against COVID-19 are necessary or helpful aboard a cruise ship; this action is about the use and misuse of governmental power.”

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.