Cruising in American Waters: Spector, Maritime Conflicts, and Choice of Law

35 Pages Posted: 19 May 2006

See all articles by Symeon Symeonides

Symeon Symeonides

Willamette University - College of Law


This Article discusses the extent to which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar statutes apply to foreign-flag ships that carry passengers to and from United States ports and have other U.S. contacts, at least while the ships are within U.S. waters.

The answer to this question - which a divided Supreme Court answered equivocally in Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., 125 S.Ct. 2169 (2005) - depends in part on whether the statute's application implicates the ship's internal affairs and on the presence of a clear statement evidencing congressional intent regarding such application.

This Article contends that:

(1) Cases like Spector should not be subject to the clear statement canon because: (a) they do not really involve the ship's internal affairs properly defined; and (b) they do implicate significant U.S. interests, a factor that normally triggers an established exception to the internal affairs doctrine;

(2) If cases like Spector are subject to the clear statement canon, the canon should be downgraded to a presumption of non-applicability, which can be rebutted by showing either actual or constructive congressional intent to that end;

(3) Under this test, one could reasonably infer that Congress intended the ADA to apply to foreign ships like the one involved in Spector because the application of the ADA: (a) would serve the purpose for which Congress enacted it; and (b) would not unduly interfere with the ship's internal affairs properly defined; and

(4) Spector does not materially differ from cases involving the applicability of the Jones Act or general maritime law to disputes with foreign elements. Under the choice-of-law approach followed in those cases, Spector would easily fall within the reach of U.S. law. The dichotomy between these two categories of cases is no longer necessary or defensible. A new, unified choice-of-law approach for both categories would be highly preferable. This Article outlines such an approach.

Keywords: Admiralty, Maritime law, Choice of law, Conflict of laws, Extraterritoriality, Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, Disabilities law, Jurisdiction, Prescriptive jurisdiction, Law of the sea, International law

Suggested Citation

Symeonides, Symeon, Cruising in American Waters: Spector, Maritime Conflicts, and Choice of Law. Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Symeon Symeonides (Contact Author)

Willamette University - College of Law ( email )

245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States

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