General Counsel, Jennifer G. Ashton
Davis & Ashton, P.A.
1. City of Homestead v. McDonough, 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 15714, 2017 WL 4937816 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2017). Public records request; exemptions.
In October 2012, McDonough filed a Notice of Intent to file a claim against the City of Homestead (“City”) after an alleged incident between McDonough and a City police officer. McDonough also filed a separate complaint against the officer for defamation. The City was not named in the defamation complaint. The Notice of Intent claim and the defamation claim arose out of the same October 2012 incident. McDonough thereafter filed a public records request for documents related to the City's decision to defend the officer in the defamation action. Five emails contained in the City’s risk management file were at issue as part of the public records request. The City responded that the emails requested were exempt from production under Chapter 119, Sections 768.28(16)(b) and 90.502, F.S., because they contained the impressions of attorneys retained by the City related to the pending Notice of Intent claim. After hearing, the trial court ordered the City to disclose two of the five emails, finding the remaining three exempt for various reasons.
On appeal, the Third DCA disagreed with the trial court and found that the two emails were exempt from disclosure. First, the records were contained in the City's risk management file and were, pursuant to the plain language of Section 768.28(16)(b), F.S., exempt from disclosure for that reason alone. Section 768.28(16)(b) provides that “claims files” are confidential and exempt until termination of all litigation and settlement of all claims arising out of the same incident. Second, there is no statutory exception that would allow the trial court to require disclosure of some risk management file records and not others based on the court's determination that release of the records would not harm the government's risk management analysis or settlement negotiations. The statute did not contain a “no harm” exception to the non-disclosure rule. The Third DCA concluded that the trial court ignored the plain language of the statute and therefore, should be reversed.
2. Ricketts v. Village of Miami Shores, 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 15701, 2017 WL 4943772 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2017). Constitutional challenges; rational basis.
The Third DCA framed the case as follows: “Miami Shores homeowners may have virtually anything in their front yard. They may decorate with garden gnomes, pink flamingos and trolls. They may park their boats and jet skis. And they are free to grow whatever trees, flowers, shrubs, grasses, fruits and berries they desire. There is, however, one thing forbidden: Vegetables.” In Miami Shores, maintaining a vegetable garden in your front yard is illegal and punishable by a daily fine. Vegetable gardens are permitted in rear yards only. Appellants, Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll (the "residents"), designed and maintained a vegetable garden without incident in the front yard of their home for over 17 years. After nearly two decades, they were abruptly ordered to stop. Facing the threat of fine, the residents destroyed their garden. The residents thereafter filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the ban on front-yard vegetable gardens. The residents claimed that the ban, on its face, violated the Florida Constitution's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.
The trial court held, and the Third DCA agreed, that gardening in your front yard is not a fundamental right. Therefore, the local government only needed to prove a rational basis for enacting the ordinance in order for it to be upheld. The rational basis standard is a “deferential standard” where the court only looks to see if it is fairly debatable whether the purpose of the law is legitimate and the methods adopted serve that legitimate purpose. In other words, if there is a rational basis for the law, then the law is upheld. Miami Shores stated that the ordinance was enacted for aesthetic reasons and for the protection of property values. The Third DCA held that this was a rational basis for regulating vegetable gardens in front yards and therefore, upheld the ordinance.