Florida vs. CDC: Judge to hear cruise ship lawsuit arguments on Thursday

A federal judge is expected to hear arguments Thursday over whether to grant Florida’s request to temporarily block federal restrictions on the cruise industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hearing is set to begin on Thursday morning in Tampa, where U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday will consider the preliminary injunction request.

Governor Ron DeSantis filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April challenging restrictions imposed by the CDC that halted the cruise industry for more than a year.

The big sticking point is the CDC’s requirement that 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID. Governor DeSantis recently signed a law, preventing businesses from asking anyone for proof of a COVID vaccine.

Florida says the CDC is overstepping its authority and singling out the cruise industry. In a brief filed Monday, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney said Florida’s injunction request is not needed, saying cruising is on track to return mid-summer and because of recent developments.

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The CDC is now allowing cruise operators to do test cruises with unvaccinated people to show how they can mitigate the risks of the virus.

Personal injury attorney Dale Appell said that is underway in Florida. "That’s one of the reasons why I’m not sure Florida will be successful in their injunction on Thursday because they’re going to have to prove irreparable harm if the judge doesn’t give them this injunction against the CDC."

Appell said he does not expect the judge to make a final ruling in the lawsuit on Thursday. Captain John Murray, CEO of Canaveral Port Authority, said he thinks the lawsuit has caused the CDC to move quicker with the cruise industry.

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"I’m not going to say I’m in support of the lawsuit. Governor DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody -- they really started moving the needle with the lawsuit, so much, if you follow [the lawsuit], you recall briefs are required on the government side. Things magically happened at the CDC and are posted the night before or the same day a motion is due."

The cruise industry is optimistic cruising will return soon. Captain Murray said Disney has a test cruise with its employees scheduled for the end of June. Officials for Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise lines said ships will sail in July from Miami. 

A spokesperson for Norwegian said it will resume sailing in August.