Appeals Court Keeps Pandemic Rules in Place for Florida-Based Cruise Ships

Appeals Court Keeps Pandemic Rules in Place for Florida-Based Cruise Ships
The Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of The Seas arrives at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 10, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Tom Ozimek

A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a judge’s ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit seeking to overturn the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) pandemic restrictions on cruise ships.

In a ruling on July 17 (pdf), a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay in the case, effectively allowing the CDC’s guidelines for cruise operators to remain in place while the agency appeals a June decision by a district court that stated that the CDC exceeded its authority by imposing restrictions on the industry.
The state of Florida on April 8 sued the federal government over its prolonged shutdown of cruises, arguing that trips are being run safely in other parts of the world and the U.S. industry is on the brink of financial ruin, according to a 156-page suit filed in federal court and obtained by The Epoch Times.

The CDC ordered cruises to stop departing and returning to U.S. ports in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then on Oct. 30, 2020, the CDC imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.

The lawsuit asked a judge to bar the CDC from preventing cruises from launching from Florida and other U.S. ports. If the shutdown continues, Florida will lose hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, and the approximately 159,000 state residents who work in the industry “could lose everything,” according to the suit, which names the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services and their directors.

“This is not reasonable. This is not rational,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, told a press conference on April 8. “And this is something that we don’t believe can continue any longer.”

“We are not going to sit back while its administrative agency decides to shut down an entire industry,” the state’s Attorney General Ashley Moody said.

In June, a federal judge ruled for Florida in the lawsuit, with U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday writing in a 124-page decision that the state would be harmed if the CDC order were to continue.

“Florida persuasively claims that the conditional sailing order will shut down most cruises through the summer and perhaps much longer,” the judge wrote, adding that Florida “faces an increasingly threatening and imminent prospect that the cruise industry will depart the state.”

Merryday delayed the effect of his order until just after midnight on July 18, with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’s decision coming just ahead of that date.

In a court filing cited by CBS News, attorneys for Florida urged the appeals court to reject the CDC’s request to keep the pandemic restrictions in place.

“The equities overwhelmingly favor allowing the cruise industry to enjoy its first summer season in two years while this Court sorts out the CDC’s contentions on appeal,” Florida’s lawyers argued, according to the report.

Attorneys representing the CDC stated in court filings cited by CBS that maintaining the restrictions would prevent future outbreaks on ships.

Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
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