Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd.

545 U.S. 119, 125-61 (2005).
Download Judgment: English
Country: United States
Region: Americas
Year: 2005
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Tags: Disabilities, Freedom from Discrimination

The petitioners were disabled individuals and their companions who purchased tickets in 1998 or 1999 for round-trip cruises on the Norwegian Seaor the Norwegian Star, with departures from Houston, Texas. The respondent was Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. (NCL). NCL was a Bermuda corporation with a principal place of business in Miami, Florida and operated cruise ships that departed from and return to, ports in the United States. The ships are essentially floating resorts. They provide passengers with staterooms or cabins, food, and entertainment.
The petitioners filed a class action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of all persons similarly situated. They alleged that the defendants charged them higher ticket prices than non-disabled passengers, required them to travel with companions. The respondents also failed to make structural accommodations to the ships in order to make them more accessible to disabled passengers. The petitioners sought declaratory and injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. They asserted that cruise ships were covered both by Title III’s prohibition on discrimination in places of “public accommodation,” §12182(a), and by its prohibition on discrimination in “specified public transportation services,” §12184(a). Both provisions require covered entities to make able modifications in policies, practices, or procedures” to accommodate disabled individuals,§§12182(b)(2)(A)(ii), 12184(b)(2)(A), and require removal of “architectural barriers, and communication barriers that are structural in nature,” where such removal is “readily achievable,” §§12182(b)(2)(A)(iv),12184(b)(2)(C). The District Court held that, as a general matter, Title III applies to foreign-flag cruise ships in the United States territorial waters. It found that the petitioners ‘claims regarding physical barriers to access could not go forward because the federal agencies charged with promulgating ADA architectural and structural guidelines had not done so for cruise ships. The court, therefore, dismissed the barrier removal claims but denied NCL’s motion to dismiss the petitioners’ other claims.
The plaintiffs filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit which dismissed their claims, holding that “general statutes do not apply to foreign-flag vessels in United States territory absent a clear indication of congressional intent.” Thereafter the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that general U.S. statutes did not apply to the purely internal affairs of foreign-flag vessels in U.S. territory in the absence of a clear indication of congressional intent. The Court defined structural barriers used to keep the ships in compliance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea as “purely internal affairs.” The Court held that because ships had international safety standards with which they must comply, the ADA did not require that these safety measures be overridden in order to make them more accessible to disabled persons. The ADA only required “readily achievable” barrier removal, and barrier removal that would cause a ship to fall out of compliance with safety standards did not fall under that category.
The Court further held that Title III of the ADA did impose duties on foreign-flag ships, as long as those duties did not involve purely internal affairs. It held that Congress did intend for its statutes to apply to entities in U.S. territory that affected U.S. citizens. Although the plaintiffs’s allegations that the defendant failed to make structural accommodations were held to be inactionable because they involved “purely internal affairs”, the other complaints, including higher ticket prices for disabled passengers and the travel companion requirement, were not classified as such and therefore were not immune from liability under the ADA.
The Court found that the higher fares charged to disabled passengers, the requirement that disabled passengers travel with non-disabled companions, the evacuation equipment that was inaccessible to disabled persons, the waiver for any potential medical liability that was only required for disabled persons, and the reservation of the right to remove any disabled persons from the ships who interfered with the “enjoyment” of the experience by other passengers all violated Title III of the ADA. The Court held that these discriminatory practices were not exempted as “purely internal affairs” of the ships because they did not mitigate any “significant risk to the health or safety of others.” The decision of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was reversed.
The dissent agreed with the plurality opinion that when a law would interfere with the regulation of a ship’s internal order, Congress must have made a clear statement that it intended such a result. However, the dissent believed that all of the plaintiffs’ complaints addressed the internal affairs of the ships, not just the complaints requesting structural accommodations. The dissent further held that Congress had not made a sufficiently clear statement of its intent to apply Title III of the ADA to foreign-flag vessels. Out of respect for international law and safety regulations for cruise ships, the dissent affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals that Title III of the ADA did not apply to foreign-flag cruise ships.

“This Court has long held that general statutes are presumed to apply to conduct that takes place aboard a foreign-flag vessel in United States territory if the interests of the United States or its citizens, rather than interests internal to the ship, are at stake.” Page 130.
“The United States has a strong interest in ensuring that U.S. resident cruise passengers enjoy Title III's protections on both domestic and foreign ships . . . Once conflicts with international legal obligations are avoided, I see no reason to demand a clearer congressional statement that Title III reaches the vessels in question, ships that regularly sail to and from U.S. ports and derive most of their income from U.S. passengers.” Page 145.
“ … Whether a barrier modification is "readily achievable" under Title III must take into consideration the modification's effect on shipboard safety. A separate provision of Title III mandates that the statute's nondiscrimination and accommodation requirements do not apply if disabled individuals would pose "a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices, or procedures or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services.” Page 136.

Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities (Title III): Americans with Disabilities Act- 42 U.S.C.S. § 12182 (1990). (a) General rule. No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Lines PDFSpector v. Norwegian Cruise Lines PDF