Legal Report, July 2016

General Counsel, Jennifer G. Ashton
Corbett, White, Davis & Ashton, P.A.

1.   Schweickert v. Citrus Cnty. Fla. Bd., 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 7970, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D 1233 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. May 25, 2016). Florida Public Records Act; attorney’s fees; mootness.
The County Administrator of the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (Board) sent a formal letter of complaint regarding the conduct of one of the Commissioners. In June 2014, the Board hired an attorney to investigate the charges in the complaint. On September 11, 2014, the publisher of an internet newspaper submitted a public records request requesting records pertaining to the complaint against the Commissioner. On September 16, 2014, the same publisher submitted a second public records request seeking the same information. After claiming an exemption initially, the Board attorney agreed to “provide copies of [her] notes once the investigation is complete upon request.” After not receiving the requested documents, on October 2, 2014, the requestor filed a complaint to enforce the public records law. The first count sought a writ of mandamus to compel production of the documents and the second sought a declaration that the Board did not respond in good faith to public records request, along with a request for attorney’s fees. After the suit commenced, the documents were provided to the requestor. After filing an amended complaint, the trial court granted the Board’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint, finding that it was moot and did not state a cause of action.  On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the requestor's case was not rendered moot simply because the Board produced the requested documents after the filing of the initial complaint, but prior to filing the amended complaint. The Court concluded that the delay in providing the requested public records was unlawful because the exemption did not apply.  Therefore, it remanded the case to the trial court for an award of reasonable costs and attorney’s fees to the requestor.

2.   City of Fort Pierce v. Treasure Coast Marina, LC, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 8184, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D 1271, 2016 WL 3087680 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. May 31, 2016). Ad valorem tax exemption; municipal marinas.
The City of Ft. Pierce and Ft. Pierce Redevelopment Agency (City) appealed from an order granting final summary judgment in favor of Treasure Coast Marina, LC d/b/a Harbortown Marina, Raincross Holdings, LC, and Riverfront Developers, LC. The trial court had held that the City was not entitled to an exemption from ad valorem taxes on two marinas owned and operated by the City, concluding that they did not serve a “municipal or public purpose” under Article VII, Section 3(a) of the Florida Constitution. The trial court relied on cases finding that Florida Department of Revenue v. City of Gainesville, 918 So. 2d 250 (Fla. 2005), had narrowed the legal standard for the exemption. According to the trial court in interpreting Gainesville, the City’s marinas did not serve a municipal or public purpose because “they previously operated as private marinas and still compete with private marinas.” On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed, finding that the Gainesville case did not change the legal standard for municipal purpose under this section of the Florida Constitution. The Fourth DCA held that the City’s marinas, which are open to the public and exclusively owned and operated by the City, “serve a purpose that has been repeatedly and explicitly recognized as a ‘municipal or public purpose’.” The Fourth DCA further concluded that this case presents an issue of great public importance, noting the size of the boating community in Florida and the significant economic impact that the ad valorem exemption provides these marinas. The Court asked the Florida Supreme Court to review this question and provide guidance. We will continue to monitor this case.

3.  Florida Attorney General Opinion 2016-07 (2016)—Golf Carts; child safety restraints.
The City of Winter Garden asked for clarification on Sections 316.212 and 316.613, F.S., pertaining to the regulation of golf carts by municipalities. Of particular note, the City asked the Attorney General whether: 1) the operation of a golf cart on the public streets of a municipality is subject to the child restraint requirements of Section 316.613, F.S. and 2) whether a municipality may adopt an ordinance prohibiting the operation of a golf cart on public streets by a person who does not have a valid driver’s license.  The Florida Attorney General opined that the operation of a golf cart on the public streets of a municipality is not subject to the child restraint requirements of § 316.613, F.S. Consistent with previously issued AGO 2004-60, the plain language of the statute prescribes the safety equipment required on golf carts and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles does not require such restraints. While general traffic laws require safety belts and child safety restraints on motor vehicles, the more specific statutory requirements for golf carts control. The Florida Attorney General further opined that a municipality may not prohibit the operation of a golf cart by an unlicensed driver. Although Section 316.212, F.S. would appear to authorize municipalities to adopt ordinances prohibiting the operation of golf carts on public streets by persons without a valid driver’s license, Section 322.01(1)(e), F.S., expressly exempts from licensure any person operating a golf cart. Therefore, because the Legislature clearly authorized unlicensed drivers to operate golf carts on the highways of the state, municipalities are precluded from adopting ordinances to prohibit the operation of golf carts by unlicensed drivers. 

4.   Town of Gulf Stream, et al. vs. Palm Beach County, et al.; Case No. 4D15-1753 of the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal. Inspector General Funding Lawsuit - update
Thirteen municipalities sued Palm Beach County (the “County”) challenging the method of funding for the Office of Inspector General (the “OIG Program”). The case is on appeal with the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal.  The case has been set for oral argument on October 4, 2016.