The State of Florida scored a partial victory Friday afternoon in its lawsuit against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concerning the agency’s Conditional Sailing Order.
Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, filed a lawsuit against the CDC in April of this year, accusing the agency of overreach, creating arbitrary and capricious rules, and unnecessarily delaying the issuing of guidance that would allow the cruise industry to resume service, citing economic harm for the state.
In a 124 page order on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday ruled in favor of Florida, granting the state the preliminary injunction it sought to essentially nullify the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order.
Explained: The CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order
Citing legal precedent that indicated Florida would likely succeed in most of its claims once the suit reached trial, Merryday wrote, “In brief, this order confirms Florida’s constitutional and statutory standing to assert the claims in the complaint. This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC’s conditional sailing order and the implementing orders [that] exceed the authority delegated to CDC.”
Merryday granted a preliminary injunction to the State of Florida, prohibiting the CDC from implementing and enforcing the Conditional Sailing Order against any cruise ships arriving or departing from a Florida port.
The judge delayed the implementation of the preliminary injunction until 12:01 am ET on July 18, 2021. At that time, conditions and restrictions in the Conditional Sailing Order will become non-binding recommendations, similar to guidelines the CDC has issued for other industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The injunction permits the CDC to file narrower Conditional Sail guidelines with the court no later than July 2, 2021, noting that “motion … must support the proposed terms with current scientific evidence and fully disclose — if unavailable to the public — scientific evidence, including methodology, raw data, analysis, and the like and the names and qualifications of the scientists participating in the study,” and that it must respect the more limited powers Merryday lays out for the CDC. Once the CDC files its motion, Florida has seven days to respond.
Merryday was appointed to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida by President George H. W. Bush in 1992, and became Chief Judge of the District Court in 2015.
“The health and safety of cruise passengers, crew and the communities we visit remain the top priority for CLIA cruise line members, and cruise ships are well on their way to offering the traveling public a high level of COVID-19 mitigation,” Cruise Lines Industry Association spokesperson Laziza Lambert said in a statement to the Associated Press, indicating the group was still determining what the ruling meant for the resumption of cruise service.
Carnival Corporation’s Roger Frizzle told Cruise Radio, “We are in the process of reviewing it.”
The CDC first issued a “No Sail Order,” prohibiting cruise ships sailing from any U.S. ports, in mid-March 2020, just as the COVID-19 health crisis was becoming a global pandemic.
After multiple extensions on the order as the pandemic raged on, it was finally lifted on October 31, 2020.
On the same day, the No Sail Order was replaced with the Conditional Sailing Order studied at issue in today’s ruling.
The Conditional Sailing Order has gone through multiple iterations and guidance changes as the global situation has evolved.