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