Friday, December 6, 2013

Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. case brief

Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. case brief summary
545 U.S. 119 (2005)

Plaintiff disabled passengers filed a class action against defendant foreign cruise line under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C.S. § 12181 et seq.Though holding Title III generally applicable, the district court dismissed some claims but left others in place. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the ADA was inapplicable to foreign vessels. The passengers sought review.

  • Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. (D) is a company that operates cruise ships with its principal place of business in the United States. 
  • Norwegian primarily advertises for its business in the U.S., and the majority of its passengers are U.S. citizens. 
  • Under the terms of its tickets, disputes between passengers and Norwegian are to be governed by U.S. law. 
  • However, despite all these contacts with the United States, most of Norwegian’s cruise ships are registered in other countries, flying foreign flags. 
  • In 1998 and 1999, Spector (P), a disabled person, and other disabled persons (all of which were U.S. citizens) booked cruises on two of Norwegian’s ships: the Norwegian Star and the Norwegian Sea. 
  • Both of these ships were registered in the Bahamas. 
  • Spector brought a class action suit on behalf of all disabled persons similarly situated seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that Norwegian charged them higher fees and surcharges than other passengers, required them to travel with a companion, reserved the right to remove them from the ship if necessary for the “comfort” of other passengers, prevented them from enjoying all the amenities of the ships, and refused to make structural accommodations to the physical layout of the ships, including the safety barriers, for the purpose of making them more accessible to persons with disabilities. 
  • Spector alleged that these actions violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 
  • The United States court of appeals dismissed the claim on the ground that general statutes do not apply to foreign-flag vessels in United States territory absent a clear indication of congressional intent.
The passengers claimed the line's ships were covered by Title III's prohibition on discrimination in "public accommodations," 42 U.S.C.S. § 12182(a), and "specified public transportation services," 42 U.S.C.S. § 12184(a).


  • Inter alia, the Supreme Court held that although the statutory definitions of "public accommodation" and "specified public transportation" did not expressly mention cruise ships, the cruise ships in question clearly fell within both definitions under conventional principles of interpretation. 
  • The "clear statement rule" demanded a clear congressional statement, not for all applications of a statute to foreign-flag vessels, but only those applications that would interfere with the foreign vessel's internal affairs. 
  • This did not mean the clear statement rule was irrelevant to the ADA, however. 
  • If Title III by its terms imposed duties that interfered with a foreign-flag ship's internal affairs, the lack of a clear congressional statement could mean that those specific statutory applications were precluded. 
  • The Circuit Court's broadly sweeping clear statement rule interpretation was inconsistent with the Supreme Court's case law and sound statutory interpretation.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Circuit Court and remanded for further proceedings.


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