ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a judge’s ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit challenging U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pandemic regulations for cruise ship operation.
The one-paragraph decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed at 11:50 p.m. Saturday, just minutes before a Tampa judge’s previous ruling was set to take effect.
The judges’ issuance of a temporary stay keeps the CDC regulations regarding Florida-based cruise ships in place while the CDC appeals the June decision by U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.
The lawsuit, championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, claims that the CDC’s multiple-step process to allow cruising from Florida is overly burdensome, harming both a multibillion-dollar industry that provides some 159,000 jobs and revenue collected by the state.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not immediately respond Sunday to an email and a text message seeking comment. In court filing, attorneys for Florida urged the 11th Circuit to reject the CDC request to keep its rules intact for now.
“The equities overwhelmingly favor allowing the cruise industry to enjoy its first summer season in two years while this Court sorts out the CDC’s contentions on appeal,” Florida’s lawyers argued.
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. Those included virus mitigation procedures and a simulated cruise to test them before embarking regular passengers.
Merryday’s decision concluded that the CDC can’t enforce those rules for Florida-based ships and that they should merely be considered nonbinding recommendations or guidelines. Several cruise lines have begun preliminary cruises under those guidelines, which the Tampa judge agreed with Florida are too onerous.
“Florida persuasively claims that the conditional sailing order will shut down most cruises through the summer and perhaps much longer,” the judge wrote in June, adding that Florida “faces an increasingly threatening and imminent prospect that the cruise industry will depart the state.”
The 11th Circuit’s brief decision did not include any opinions from the judges, which the panel said would be released later. The decision noted that one appeals judge dissented.