WASHINGTON -- The
U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a case brought by disabled
passengers against Norwegian Cruise Line that could determine
whether foreign-flagged ships are subject to the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA).
Two separate U.S.
appeals courts have issued opposing opinions on the case, which
prompted the passengers attorneys to file for Supreme Court review
In a routine
order last week the court said it would hear the case, Douglas
Spector, et al., v. Norwegian Cruise Line, which originated in
Houston four years ago.
In their petition
to the Supreme Court, the five plaintiffs said, This is no mere
conflict between two circuits, noting that the two appeals courts
that are in disagreement have jurisdiction over the ports from
which nearly two-thirds of all United States cruises depart. As a
result, this conflict renders uncertain the rights of millions of
travelers with disabilities.
The case was originally
brought before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of
Texas in 2000, after the plaintiffs had taken separate NCL cruises
out of Houston in 1998 and 1999.
said in the Supreme Court petition that they had been required to
pay higher fares to use one of about four accessible cabins and
encountered architectural barriers that prevented them from
enjoying many of the ships services, programs and
court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in September 2002, relying
on an earlier appeals court decision from the 11th Circuit in
Atlanta, Stevens v. Premier Cruises Inc., which said the ADA does
apply to foreign-flagged cruise ships, saying, among other things,
it recognized that the relevant conduct occurred solely within the
geographic boundaries of the United States.
But the court
declined to mandate structural changes to the ships.
Both sides sought
review in the U.S. Court of appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New
Orleans -- the plaintiffs wanted structural changes made to the
ships, while NCL challenged the ruling that the ADA applied to its
foreign-flagged ships. The appeals court overturned the district
courts decision in January, saying the ADA does not apply to
Theres a clear
split, Rex Burch, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said of the
earlier 11th Circuit and the current Fifth Circuit
Burch said he
expected the Supreme Court to review the case in early 2005 and
issue a decision by June.
NCL said in a
statement that accessibility issues are very important to both
cruise vacation providers and to the traveling public, adding that
inconsistent court decisions around the country on this subject are
The line added it
was proud of its record in accommodating passengers with
another of the plaintiffs attorneys, said the Supreme Court ruling
would be only the first step in the fight for an ADA-compliant
cruise industry. If the court does rule in the plaintiffs favor, he
said, We go back to the trial court and we prove whether or not
[NCL is] ADA compliant.
reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].