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Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd

    Brief Fact Summary. A class action which sought declarative and injunctive relief against the Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd (NCL) (D) under the Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination based on disability was filed by disabled individuals (P) and their companions (P) who had bought tickets for round-trip cruises from a U.S. port.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act does not seek to regulate a vessel’s internal affairs but it is applies to foreign-flag ships in U.S. waters.

    Facts. With its principal place of business in Miami, Florida, NCL (D), a Bermuda Corporation, operated cruise ships that departed from and returned to port in the United States. A large chunk of the company’s revenue came from the U.S but almost all of NCL’s (D) vessels were registered in other countries. A class action was brought against the cruise company by disabled individuals (P) and their companions (P) who had purchased tickets for round-trip cruises from a U.S. port.
    The plaintiffs sought declarative and injunctive relief against NCL (D) under the Title III of the ADA, which prohibit discrimination. Because the ADA does not apply to foreign-flag vessels in U.S. territory absent a clear indication of congressional intent to the contrary, the court of appeals dismissed the claim. But the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

    Issue. Does the Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act seek to regulate a vessel’s internal affairs and does it applies to foreign-flag ships in U.S. waters?

    Held. (kennedy, J.) Yes.  The Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act does not seek to regulate a vessel’s internal affairs but it is applies to foreign-flag ships in U.S. waters. It is only when the of the United States or its citizens  rather than the interest internal to the ship are at stake that the general statutes are presumed to apply to conduct that takes place aboard a foreign-flag vessel in U.S. territory.
    The absence of a clear statement of congressional intent is the narrow exception to this presumption which is based on international comity, and the general statute is not applicable to foreign-flag vessels as to matters involving order and discipline of the vessel. If the Title III were to be read to require permanent and significant structural modifications to foreign vessels, then clear-statement rule would most likely come into play. Otherwise, Title III is applicable to NCL’s (D) foreign-flag cruise ship. Reversed and remanded.

    Dissent. (Scalia, J) It is when laws interfere with the regulation of a ship internal order that the clear-statement rule comes into play and this is designed to promote international comity and avoid international discord. It is not applicable in situation whereby the pervasive regulation of the internal order of a ship is not present.
    The structural modifications needed under Title III for compliance with its barrier-removal provisions clearly would affect the internal order of the ship because the physical aspect of the ship would be altered and some of this is related to safety, which under international law traditionally has been the province of the ship’s flag state. This would not be in consonance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and other similar inconsistencies might exist between the structural requirements of Title III and the disability laws of other countries. According, the ADA should not apply to foreign-flag cruise ships in U.S. waters.

    Discussion. Unlike the statute’s unambiguous general terms, the clear-statement rul is an implied limitation and operates much like other implied rules, which avoid applications of otherwise unambiguous statutes that would intrude on sensitive domains in a way that Congress is unlikely to have intended had it considered the matter.
    An all-or-nothing approach to the rule was avoided by the court in this case, under which a statute is altogether inapplicable if but one of its specific applications trenches on the domain protected by a clear-statement rule. This approach taking would change the clear-statement rule from a principle of interpretive caution into a trap for an unwary Congress, which would require the cancellation of the entire statute or of some arbitrary set of applications larger than the domain the rule protects.


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