Legal Report, January 2018

General Counsel, Jennifer G. Ashton

1. City of Miami Beach v. Fla. Retail Fed'n, Inc., 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 18688, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D 2594, 2017 WL 6346787 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2017). Minimum Wage Ordinance; preemption.

In 2003, the Florida Legislature enacted § 218.077, F.S. establishing the federal minimum wage as the minimum wage for the state of Florida. Subsection 2 preempted local government ordinances that would seek to raise the minimum wage above the federal wage amount. In 2004, Florida's voters passed a citizens' initiative to amend the Florida Constitution by adding Article X, Section 24, which established a higher statewide minimum wage than the federal minimum wage. Per subsection (f) “[t]his Amendment provides for payment of a minimum wage and shall not be construed to preempt or otherwise limit the authority of the state legislature or any other public body to adopt or enforce any other law, regulation, requirement, policy or standard that provides for payment of higher or supplemental wages or benefits, or that extends such protections to employers or employees not covered by this amendment.” The City of Miami Beach (“City”) construed this provision as granting it authority to enact a minimum wage higher than the one authorized by Article X, Section 24. Thus, in 2016, the City enacted into its code of ordinances "Article XVII - City Minimum Living Wage" which requires every employer subject to the City's business tax receipt requirement to pay its workers City's minimum wage if those workers are otherwise covered by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. In December 2016, the Florida Retail Federation and other plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint against City seeking to invalidate its minimum wage ordinance. In March 2017, the trial court entered a final summary judgment for the Florida Retail Federation. The City appealed.

On appeal, the Third DCA agreed with the trial court that § 218.077(2), F.S. is a preemption statute that expressly prohibits political subdivisions of the state from establishing a minimum wage. In looking at the plain meaning of the amendment, the court concluded that the 2004 constitutional amendment did not nullify the State's wage preemption statute, which indeed prohibits local minimum wage ordinances such as the one enacted by City. The court further rejected the City's argument that the 2003 statute and the 2004 constitutional amendment cannot be read in harmony; instead holding that the Article X, Section 24 and § 218.077, F.S. can stand together without one toppling the other.


2. Pinellas Cnty. v. Richman Grp. of Fla., 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 17698, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D 2526, 2017 WL 5759040 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017). Land Use Amendment; rational basis.

In 2012, a developer sought to change the future land use designation for 16 acres of property in the City of Safety Harbor from Industrial Limited (IL) to Residential Medium (RM) to accommodate its development plans. The Safety Harbor City Commission approved developer’s proposal despite significant resident opposition.  Under a Special Act governing Pinellas County’s land use plan, the proposed land use change was next forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners sitting as the County Planning Authority (“CPA”) for review.  In May 2013, the CPA unanimously voted to deny the amendment at a public hearing.  The CPA based its decision to deny on significant public opposition and County Resolution 06-3, which set forth "the need to reserve industrial parcels for target employers" in Pinellas County.

The developer thereafter sued the County for monetary damages under § 1983, alleging violations of its federal equal protection and substantive due process rights as secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The developer asserted that the CPA treated it differently from similarly-situated applicants by denying its application "without any conceivable basis to support its actions, or any rational relationship between its denial and any legitimate government interests." On the substantive due process claim, the developer asserted that the denial "was an irrational, arbitrary, and capricious decision without any rational basis in fact or law." After a bench trial, the trial court entered a final judgment in favor of the developer on both counts holding that the County had no rational basis for denying the developer’s application.  The trial court found that “industrial land preservation” was not a legitimate reason/rational basis for denying the land use change.

On appeal, the Second DCA reversed, finding that the trial court erred in concluding that the County had no rational basis to deny the proposed amendment.  The Court held that a legislative governmental decision, such as a land use decision, will not be considered arbitrary and capricious if it has a “rational relationship with a legitimate general welfare concern…In other words, the Plaintiff must show the government’s infringement was ‘arbitrary, conscience shocking, or oppressive in the constitutional sense, not merely incorrect or ill-advised.”  The Court wrote that if the government’s legislative decision is ‘at least debatable,” there is no denial of substantive due process or equal protection under the law.

The Second DCA found that hundreds of local residents articulated specific, rational concerns regarding the proposed change’s effect on the general welfare.  Additionally, the Court found that the County could consider the land’s current suitability for target employers when making its legislative determination.  Therefore, reasonable persons could differ as to the propriety of the land use change and the County’s denial was “fairly debatable.”  As such, the County had a rational basis for denying the developer’s application.