July 13, 1999
Mr. Hermann Paul Schlander
Cruise Ship Consultant
42-980 Massachusetts Court
Palm Desert, California 92211
Dear Mr. Schlander:
This letter is in response to your inquiries whether the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) applies to foreign flag cruise ships. Please excuse the delay.
The ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities that have rights or responsibilities under the Act. Pursuant to that authority, this letter provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA. However, this technical assistance does not constitute a legal interpretation of the statute, and is not binding on the Department.
Cruise ships are subject to the requirements of title III of the ADA. Section 301 of the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by private entities in their operation of places of public accommodation. A place of public accommodation is defined as a facility whose operations affect commerce and fall within one or more of the twelve broad categories of facilities listed in the statute. These categories include places of lodging, establishments serving food or drink, places of exhibition or entertainment, and places of exercise or recreation. Cruise ships, which typically contain guest cabins, restaurants, snack bars, movie theaters, lounges, health clubs, and pool areas, function as one or more of these types of places of public accommodation.
Cruise ships are also covered by section 304 of the ADA. Section 304 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in "specified public transportation services provided by a private entity that is primarily engaged in the business of transporting people and whose operations affect commerce." Specified public transportation is defined as "transportation by bus, rail, or any other conveyance (other than by aircraft) that provides the general public with general or special service (including charter service) on a regular and continuing basis." 42 U.S.C. 12181(10)
Nothing in the plain language of the ADA excludes from coverage foreign flag cruise ships that do business in the United States. The ADA does not exempt from coverage public accommodations or transportation services operated by foreign corporations. Absent a statutory exemption, corporations doing business in the United States must comply with all generally applicable laws, including laws that prohibit discrimination. The fact that a cruise ship sails under a foreign flag and is registered in a foreign country does not exempt it from generally applicable laws of the countries in which it does business.
Because foreign flag vessels generally are subject to the laws of the United States when they are in United States ports or other internal waters, the Department of Justice has determined that foreign flag cruise ships are subject to the requirements of the ADA when they are in the ports or internal waters of the United States. The Department of Justice Technical Assistance Manual provides that foreign flag ships "that operate in United States ports may be subject to domestic law, such as the ADA, unless there are specific treaty prohibitions that preclude enforcement." Title III Technical Assistance Manual III-1.2000(D) (1994 Supp.) The Department of Transportation has similarly determined that the United States "appears to have jurisdiction to apply ADA requirements to foreign-flag cruise ships that call in U.S. ports" except to the extent that enforcing ADA requirements would conflict with a treaty. 56 Fed. Reg. 45,584, 45,600 (1991). Therefore, unless there is a showing that the application of the ADA to a foreign flag cruise ship would conflict with an international convention to which the United States is a party, the ADA applies.
The Department of Justice has recently filed a brief as amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of an individual with a disability who is appealing the dismissal of her ADA suit against a foreign flag cruise ship. The Department's amicus brief sets forth our position that the ADA applies to foreign flag cruise ships when they are in the ports or other internal waters of the United States.
I hope that this information is helpful to you.
John L. Wodatch
Disability Rights Section>