The legal spat between the Florida and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken another twist.
Last week, CDC’s legal team asked a federal appeals court to put on hold a US district judge’s ruling that backed Florida in the fight to resume cruising out of the US.
On Wednesday, they requested the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals issue a stay, which came after US District Judge Steven Merryday refused to put on hold his 18th June ruling that the CDC had overstepped its legal authority in placing restrictions on the cruise industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The day before, federal government lawyers had appealed Merryday’s ruling to the Atlanta-based appeals court. As part of their case, they also asked that Merryday issue a stay of his ruling until the appeals court could resolve the underlying issues in the case.
On 18th June, Judge Merryday issued a preliminary injunction against restrictions that the CDC imposed on the cruise industry. In refusing to approve the requested stay, Merryday reiterated his view that the CDC exceeded its legal authority with its Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), the News Service of Florida reported.
“Although CDC invariably garnishes the argument with dire prospects of ‘transmission’ of COVID-19 aboard a cruise vessel, these dark allusions dismiss state and local health authorities, the industry’s self-regulation and the thorough and costly preparations and accommodations by all concerned to avoid ‘transmission’ and to confine and control the ‘transmission,’ if one occurs,” the Tampa-based judge said last week.
“In other words, CDC can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power. More to the point, this action is not about what health precautions against COVID-19 are necessary or helpful aboard a cruise ship; this action is about the use and misuse of governmental power,” he said in explaining his decision.
But in asking the appeals court to issue the stay, US Department of Justice legal team representing the CDC alleged that Merryday’s preliminary injunction “rests on errors of law and is a clear abuse of the district court’s discretion.” It also argued that the injunction will “exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.”
“The district court had no basis to substitute its view (or Florida’s view) that the CDC’s protocols can safely be lifted for the contrary determination made by the expert public health agency in consultation with the cruise ship industry and squarely within its traditional authority,” the request to the appeals court said.
“These protocols appropriately balance public health concerns with the shared desire to resume passenger cruises — as is amply demonstrated by the fact that the cruise lines (which have not appeared in this litigation) are well underway in implementing the conditional sailing order and already are, or soon will be, resuming passenger cruises,” it read.
Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody, backed by Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, filed the lawsuit in April. The CDC had issued the CSO last October, which included a phased approach to resuming cruising, with vessel operators needing to meet a series of requirements.
The lawsuit also focused heavily on the economic impacts caused by of cruise ships not being allowed to sail from Florida.
Merryday’s 124-page 18th June ruling backed Florida’s position, stating that the preliminary injunction would take effect on 18th July, which has caused the two sides to go back to court, the News Service concluded.