Legal Report, June 2018

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

1.         Sanchez v. Miami-Dade County, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 5600 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018). Sovereign Immunity; Discretionary Decisions Regarding Allocation of Police Resources.
This case involves whether Miami-Dade County had sovereign immunity over its decision to not have police officers present in a park during a large birthday party.  A partygoer was shot during the party and sued the County for negligence.  The County’s rental agreement for the facility was clear: if a person renting the facility was going to have a D.J., live music or speakers, or if the party guests were going to exceed a certain number, then the person renting the facility was required to hire off-duty police officers to patrol the event.  The rental agreement also stated that the County would not be responsible for providing the off-duty police officers.  The party organizer renting the facility in this case paid the rental fee and signed the rental agreement.  However, he failed to inform the County that there would be a D.J. at the party, failed to hire the off-duty police officers as required under the agreement, and instead hired private security for the party. 

The trial court found that the County had sovereign immunity and therefore, was immune from suit.  The Third District Court of Appeal upheld the final judgment in favor of the County.  The County had allocated only twenty-seven (27) officers to its parks department, and of those twenty-seven (27), they were assigned primarily to patrol the public beaches and marinas.  The Court held that the County made a strategic planning decision in allocating its law enforcement personnel to dedicate only a few dozen officers to its parks, rather than other high crime areas in the County, and to prioritize beach and marina parks over other ones.  The County’s decision to allocate its scarce law enforcement resources to one area of the County over another is the kind of discretionary, planning, and policy decision that is protected by sovereign immunity.  To hold otherwise, the Court reasoned, would be to require the County to allocate police officers to park birthday parties, to the exclusion of other high-crime or high-priority areas, or face millions of dollars in potential liability.  The Court stated that the County must have the flexibility to set enforcement priorities on its police power ordinances in line with its budgetary restraints.  The judicial branch should not trespass into this decision process.  The Court concluded that the person shot was not left without a remedy.  He could seek relief from the shooters, the party organizer, the security guards or others who may be responsible for their negligent and willful actions.

2.         AGO 2018-04 (June 1, 2018). Electronic Signatures and Electronic Record Retention.
The Florida Attorney General addressed whether a municipality: 1) can use electronic signatures for its myriad of business processes; and 2) is required to preserve a hard copy of a document notwithstanding the fact that there is a digital version of the document in the municipality’s digital storage. First, Section 668.004, F.S. provides that unless otherwise provided by law, an electronic signature may be used in lieu of a written signature, and shall have the same force and effect as a written signature.  Therefore, each governmental entity has the discretion to decide whether it will accept electronic signatures.  Second, on the issue of records retention, the Attorney General concluded that there is no general requirement in Chapters 119 or 257, F.S. requiring a municipality to preserve a hard copy of documents being stored digitally.  However, Rule 1B-24.003, F.A.C., authorizes disposal of the paper original of a record when there is an electronic copy, unless there is a law, rule, or ordinance that specifically requires retention of the paper original.  Section 668.50(12)(f) similarly provides that records can be stored electronically except where a law specifically prohibits use of an electronic records for “evidentiary, audit, or similar purposes.”