Supreme Court Hears Cruise Case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week on whether Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to foreign-flagged cruise ships. The case, Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), was brought by disabled passengers against NCL in 2000. The petitioners have stated that American


The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week on whether Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to foreign-flagged cruise ships.

The case, Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), was brought by disabled passengers against NCL in 2000. The petitioners have stated that American passengers should be protected by U.S. disability laws while in U.S. waters.

Respondent NCL has said that the issue is “a matter of Congressional intent,” meaning that since Congress did not mention foreign-flagged ships in the ADA, those rules do not apply.

Attorney David Frederick, who argued for NCL, suggested that extending the ADA to foreign-flagged ships which historically operate under the laws of the flag it flies would open a “Pandora’s box” of legislation.

Both sides were subject to sharp questioning by the justices, who seemed concerned about the extraterritorial application of the ADA, since ships would likely have to be structurally modified and could conflict with other countries’ disability laws when they sail to those countries.

The justices also asked questions regarding the law’s potential reach for example, to ships that call in the U.S. only on occasion, or to cargo ships that carry a limited number of leisure passengers.

The justices also questioned, however, how a U.S.-based company that caters to U.S. clientele could operate outside of anti-discrimination laws.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked Frederick whether a law like the Civil Rights Act would apply to passengers on a foreign-flagged ship, since Congress did not specifically include provisions for foreign-flagged cruise ships in that law, either.

“Congress has not spoken to that point,” Frederick said.

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