Appeals Court Reverses Decision on CDC Cruise Rules

The ongoing legal battle between the state of Florida and the CDC just took another dramatic twist. Days after an appeals court reversed a decision that kept the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) in place in the state, the same court has now changed their previous decision, according to the Miami Herald.

Ship in Miami port
Ships can now sail from Florida without CDC rules following a court’s reversal. But will they do so given the risks?

Three judges on the U.S. Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit on Friday vacated their decision issued last weekend that allowed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to enforce its cruise COVID-19 safety rules in Florida.


Just before the 11th Circuit’s reversal, Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and reverse the appeals court’s decision from last Saturday.


The 11th Circuit judges — Judges Jill Pryor, Charles Wilson and Elizabeth Branch — did not provide an explanation for why they reversed their decision just six days after issuing it, saying only that the CDC “failed to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal.”

  • Miami Herald

With the reversed decision, it now means that the protocols of the CSO are now recommendations, but not requirements to sail from Florida.

The order lays out a myriad of rules cruise lines must follow to sail. It includes instruction on everything from masks, distancing, testing requirements, and more. The Conditional Sailing Order also gives the CDC the authority to allow ships to sail after meeting the guidance laid out.

Florida argued that the CDC’s rules were an act of overreach. Originally, a judge agreed with the state, putting in place an injunction against the order that was set to start July 18. At the last minute, however, that order was given a stay by the appeals court. Now, just days later, the original ruling stands again.

“I’m glad to see the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reverse its prior decision and free the cruise lines from unlawful CDC mandates, which effectively mothballed the industry for more than a year,” said Governor Ron DeSantis in a statement. “The importance of this case extends beyond the cruise industry. From here on out a federal bureau will be on thin legal and constitutional ice if and when it attempts to exercise such sweeping authority that is not explicitly delineated by law.”

It’s not clear yet if cruise lines will decide to opt-out of the Conditional Sailing Order. At a time when cruise lines are under heavy focus as they return to sailing, following CDC guidelines could help build trust among passengers.

And while the industry had sharp words for the order earlier in the year, ships have been able to return under the CSO with minimal disruption due to COVID.

If cruise lines do opt-out, the CDC will still have some oversight. According to the Miami Herald, federal mask rules for public transportation will still be required, ships will still have to report illness/death, and they will be labeled “gray” on the agency’s color-coded system that tracks COVID on ships.

As of now, CDC guidance still features prominently on the health and safety pages of each cruise line we checked.

More Legal Drama Likely

This decision is just the latest turn in what’s been a tumultuous legal battle between Florida, cruise lines, and the CDC. While the state filed suit against the CDC’s rules, the cruise lines are specifically not part of the suit, even though it has a direct impact.

On the other side of the coin, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) filed suit against Florida’s Surgeon General, aiming to lift the rules surrounding proof of vaccination. Norwegian wants to sail with 100% of passengers and crew vaccinated, however, requiring proof of the shot is not allowed under Florida law.

In a filing, the cruise company said it faces an “impossible dilemma as it prepares to set sail from Florida: NCLH will find itself either on the wrong side of health and safety and the operative federal legal framework, or else on the wrong side of Florida law.”

That case has yet to be heard, promising the potential for more legal drama to play out in the weeks ahead.

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