Florida Urges Court to Deem CDC’s Cruise Industry Reopening Standards Unlawful

The state of Florida is suing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the CDC’s October 2020 directive that “purported to lift its lockdown order” on the cruise industry but, according to the state, in reality was an “arbitrary and capricious” veiled effort in keeping the industry from “functionally” opening up.

Per the state’s Thursday complaint filed in the Middle District of Florida, the state alleged that the CDC and HHS, plus HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and the United States, have violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) via the four phases that cruise ship companies must pass through before reopening.

Pursuant to the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing and Initial Phase COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Protection of Crew, companies must comply with these criteria, or they will remain shut down until Nov. 1: (1) “establishment of laboratory testing of crew onboard cruise ships in U.S. waters,” (2) “simulated voyages designed to test a cruise ship operator’s ability to mitigate COVID-19 on cruise ships,” (3) “a certification process,” and (4) “a return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates the risk of COVID-19.”

While acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has “caused massive disruption and harm across the world,” the plaintiff argued that because of vaccine and treatment developments, the cruise industry should be allowed to reopen just as other industries, claiming that airlines, restaurants, bars, universities, and others have been able to “successfully” reopen with protocols in place. The state also contended that cruises in other parts of the globe have been able to continue without a hitch.

“But as these industries begin to restart and rebuild, the cruise industry has been singled out, and unlike the rest of America, prevented from reopening,” the state argued. “Despite the demonstrated success of reasonable COVID-19 safety protocols in Europe and Asia, the cruise industry in the United States has been subject to a nationwide lockdown since March 2020. As a result, the industry is on the brink of financial ruin.”

To preserve this asserted “essential part” of the state’s economic health, Florida claimed, the court must intervene and award declaratory relief and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief that would rule unlawful the CDC’s cruise reopening standards — or the state will risk losing “hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions,” according to the state.

“And, more importantly, the approximately 159,000 hard-working Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry could lose everything,” the plaintiff said.