ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA (AP) – A federal judge on Friday ruled for Florida in a lawsuit challenging a United States (US) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order making it difficult for cruise ships to resume sailing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
US 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 Tampa-based 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.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody praised the decision in a statement on Friday. “Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry,” said Moody.
“The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely.”
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 October 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 non-binding recommendations or guidelines.