TAMPA (WFLA) – A federal judge on Friday ruled for Florida in a lawsuit challenging a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order making it difficult for cruise ships to resume sailing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tampa-based U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday wrote in a 124-page decision that Florida would be harmed if the CDC order, which the state said effectively blocked most cruises, were to continue.
The judge granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the CDC from enforcing the order pending further legal action on a broader Florida lawsuit.
“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 exceed the authority delegated to the CDC,” Merryday wrote.
In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, demanding that it lifts its no-sail order for cruise ships.
In March, the CDC said cruise lines may be able to resume voyages by this July, but must follow strict rules. First, a cruise ship must have 98% of its crew and 95% of its passengers fully vaccinated.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement that framework imposed onerous bureaucratic requirements on the industry, such as requiring a “vaccine passport” for passengers and that cruise ships conduct a simulated voyage before embarking passengers.
“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “The CDC and the Biden Administration concocted a plan to sink the cruise industry, hiding behind bureaucratic delay and lawsuits. Today, we are securing this victory for Florida families, for the cruise industry, and for every state that wants to preserve its rights in the face of unprecedented federal overreach.”
By granting the injunction, the court deemed that the state of Florida was likely to succeed in the overall case on its merits of irreparable harm, demonstrating the state would be harmed if the order continues and the CDC has likely exceeded its authority, but also sent both the state and CDC back to mediation.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody praised the decision in a statement Friday.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. “The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely.”
The ruling means the CDC cannot enforce its order against a ship from a Florida port, but the court is delaying its enforcement until July 18.
While the CDC could appeal, Merryday ordered both sides to return to mediation to attempt to work out a full solution — a previous attempt failed — and said the CDC could fashion a modification in which it would retain some public health authority.
The CDC first flatly halted cruise ships from sailing in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected passengers and crew on numerous ships. Then the CDC on Oct. 30 of last year imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.
Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have been gearing up to return to sailing under the CDC’s four-part framework. Merryday’s decision means the CDC can’t enforce those rules for Florida-based ships and that they would merely be considered nonbinding recommendations or guidelines.
Roger Frizzell, spokesman for Carnival Cruise Line, said in an email to NBC News “We are in the process of reviewing it”.
This would be similar to CDC guidelines for the reopening of other industries such as airlines, casinos, hotels, sports venues and subways, Merryday wrote. Otherwise, the cruise industry would face a daunting task to restart operations.
“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.”