Legal Report, July 2018
General Counsel, Jennifer G. Ashton
Davis & Ashton, P.A.
1. City of Fort Lauderdale v. Nichols, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 5751 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018). Waiver of Municipal Sovereign Immunity Through Express Written Contract.
In 2002, the City launched a “Paint and Plant” pilot program to use federal grant money to fund exterior improvements to certain residential properties. Mr. Nichols applied for the program and was accepted. Through a bidding process, the City selected a contractor to perform the work on Mr. Nichols’ home. Mr. Nichols claimed the contractor’s work was substandard and caused extensive damage to his home. Mr. Nichols sued the City for breach of contract and negligence. In support of his claims, Mr. Nichols alleged that the City failed to hire, maintain and supervise the contractor’s work in accordance with “agreements” to improve his property, and in accordance with the level of care and skill that was reasonable under the circumstances.
The City moved for summary judgment asserting that Mr. Nichols’ claims were barred by sovereign immunity. The trial court denied the motion, and the City appealed. The Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of the motion for summary judgment on the negligence claim. The City would have to proceed to trial and continue litigating the negligence claim. However, the Fourth District reversed the trial court on the breach of contract claim and held that such claim was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The Fourth District held that a City can waive sovereign immunity when it enters into an express written contract. That was not the case here. The City did not have a written contract with Mr. Nichols to perform work on his home. The contract was between Mr. Nichols and the contractor. The City did not sign the contractor’s contract and was not a party to the contract. A City cannot expressly waive sovereign immunity in a contract it did not sign. Most importantly, the Fourth District did not agree with Mr. Nichols’ claim that he had a “contract” with the City simply by the City allowing him to participate in its various programs to improve his home. Participation in city programs, by itself, does not create a written contract capable of waiving sovereign immunity.
2. City of Clearwater v. BayEsplanade.com, LLC, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 8880 (Fla. 2d DCA 2018). Title to Submerged Lands.
BayEsplanade.com, LLC and the City of Clearwater were involved in a dispute about which party owned 5.88 acres of submerged land below Mandalay Channel, which is located between Clearwater Beach and the islands that comprise Island Estates. BayEsplanade claimed title through a 1957 quitclaim deed. The City claimed title through a 1934 quitclaim deed. Prior to 1926, title to the submerged land was held by the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund of the State of Florida. In 1926, the Trustees conveyed approximately 35 acres of submerged land to the Clearwater Island Bridge Company, which included the submerged land at issue in this case (the TIIF deed). In 1934, the Bridge Company gave a quitclaim deed to the City which conveyed: (1) an upland parcel known as Parcel 1; (2) “all lands” lying between the North and South lines of Parcel 1 extended Eastwardly to the Channel of Clearwater Harbor; and (3) all associated riparian rights. In 1957, the Bridge Company conveyed 35 acres of submerged lands to North Bay Company who then quitclaimed the lands to BayEsplanade in 2005.
BayEsplanade argued to the trial court that the term “all lands” did not mean submerged lands, but only referred to uplands. Therefore, the City did not have any right, title or interest to the submerged lands. The City, on the other hand, argued that “all lands” was unambiguous. It meant “all lands,” and had no other meaning. The trial court agreed with BayEsplanade and entered a final judgment in its favor. Thereafter, the City appealed. On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal held that a deed conveys all land within the boundaries of the legal description unless otherwise stated in the deed. It further held that a riparian owner may separate his uplands from his submerged lands conveying each to different grantees or selling one while withholding the other. In this case, the Second District held that the City’s quitclaim deed’s reference to “all lands” meant “all lands.” There was no language in the City’s quitclaim deed to indicate that the Bridge Company only intended to give the City uplands. The term “all lands” is not ambiguous. Therefore, the Second District reversed the trial court’s final judgment in favor of BayEsplanade, and held that the City was the true owner of the submerged lands.