In Surprise Move, Appeals Court Reverses Itself, Sides with

In a bizarre “reversal” of its position, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late Friday that it now will let stand a lower court ruling prohibiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from enforcing coronavirus-related requirements for cruise ships operating from Florida ports.

Just the previous weekend, that same appeals court in a 2-1 decision had sided with the CDC to “stay” the lower court ruling and thus allow the CDC’s authority with the Conditional Sailing Order (COS) framework for cruise lines to continue. On Friday, the State of Florida filed an appeal of that “stay” to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Then the appeals court — following additional reflection and analysis — also said Friday it was reversing that stay as the federal government/CDC had “failed to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal.”

Initial Decision

Earlier this summer, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday had sided with Florida in its case against the federal government/CDC. That would have allowed the COS process to expire mid-summer. He said that the case was “highly likely” to show the CDC was exceeding its authority when it came to the resumption of cruise line operations in Florida.

Then, that order then was “stayed” a week ago by the appeals court. With the latest action — the reversal of that stay — the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order (COS) has lost its legal clout with cruise lines. They now can interpret the COS process for departures from Florida ports as a guideline, not a legal requirement (while the appeals case continues). 

That said, the COS procedures seem to have worked well over the past few weeks for cruise lines that have restarted cruising from Florida. Travel Agent has asked Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) for a statement about the latest development.

Here’s what CLIA said:  “The Conditional Sail Order remains in effect throughout the United States, and in Florida its elements are still effective as recommendations of the nation’s leading health authority. CLIA oceangoing cruise line members resuming initial operations from Florida and all other U.S. ports will continue to operate in accordance with public health protocols that prioritize the health and safety of passengers, crew and the communities we visit.”

CLIA said this aligns with the cruise industry’s decades-long commitment to following the advice and guidance of scientists and public health experts.

Separately, while the CDC can’t force cruise ships to abide by the COS framework, it will still enforce its transportation “transit mask” requirements for people boarding ships. In addition, cruise lines will still be required to report individual COVID-19 illnesses or deaths and undergo ship inspections.

In a statement, the CDC said it “remains committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners” on health/safety measures. 

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