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Old 03-09-2005, 04:22 AM
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This just in from my subscription to

Lawyers argued in the U.S. Supreme Court Monday whether and
to what extent the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to
foreign-flagged cruise ships that operate within U.S. waters.
Spirited questions posed by Supreme Court Justices indicated
the case may have ramifications beyond the particulars of the

The background: the petitioners are a group of U.S. cruise ship
passengers with mobility impairments covered by the ADA and
their companions on the cruises.

One of the disabled petitioners, Douglas Spector, booked
passage with the rest of his family on the Norwegian Sea out of
Houston in 1999. He contends he was charged nearly twice what
other family members paid, even though his cabin category was
lower. He cited numerous complaints ranging from the cabin not
being properly equipped for someone in a wheelchair to
inaccessible public areas of the ship (including the main dining
room). Spector is not seeking money, just changes.

In their brief, lawyers for the petitioners argued, "It is impossible
to believe that Congress intended that cruise lines such as
respondent [NCL] that engage in the fašade of foreign flagging
would be free to discriminate against Americans when operating
in U.S. territory."

During the Supreme Court session on Monday, the lawyer for
NCL, David Frederick, argued that if Congress wanted to cover
the cruise industry under the ADA law, it should have said so
explicitly, but it didn't.

Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, echoed by Justice Sandra
O'Connor, indicated this interpretation could impact other areas:
"So you're saying the cruise ship is free to discriminate on the
basis of race, because the cruise industry was not specifically
covered in the public accommodations provision of the Civil
Rights Law?"

Frederick responded that the Bahamas, where the Sea is
registered, has laws against discrimination.

Justice David Souter continued: "So your answer is 'Yes. As far
as U.S. laws go, they can discriminate.'"

Frederick replied affirmatively. Upon further questioning, he said
that the majority of passengers on NCL are from the U.S., and
that the majority of its cruises begin and end on U.S. shores.
Ginsburg noted, "You're asking us to say then an enterprise
centered in the U.S. is not bound by U.S. law?"

Our prediction is the Court will split on the issue. Questions
asked by some Justices indicate they feel the argument by NCL--
that the ADA doesn't apply to cruise ships since they weren't
specifically cited--isn't valid. On the other hand, certain Justices
seemed to be swayed by NCL's argument that changes would
require a huge outlay of money, and also, it would be difficult to
comply with the different laws in every country visited on a ship.

According to National Public Radio, during the hearing,
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer commented: "Take the Queen
Mary [QM2]. There's no way they can change the ship
structurally when it's in New York and not do it when it's in

Justice Antonin Scalia later said, "Once you get rid of a step,
you're not going to change it three miles out."

A ruling in the case is expected by summer.

In the meantime, NCL is reporting that since Spector sailed in
1998, NCL has made numerous changes in the meantime
anyway. For one thing, the ships themselves are different--of the
two vessels mentioned in the suit, the Norwegian Star left the
fleet five years ago, and the Sea is leaving this summer. The
newer ships contain amenities such as Braille indicators for
elevator buttons and cabin numbers, electrical hoists for the
pools and Jacuzzis, tender boats that are accessible via
wheelchair, and up to 27 cabins per ship that are wheelchair
accessible with grab bars in the bathrooms.

Plus, on its older ships, NCL has removed barriers to
wheelchairs, built ramps, converted cabins, etc.

I hope this is helpful.

David Landry