Legal Report, June 2014

General Counsel, Trela J. White

1. City of Orlando and Lasercraft, Inc. vs. Michael Udowychenko, etc. 
Case Number SC12-1471.  Red Light Cameras.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal previously held that the City of Orlando’s red-light camera ordinance, which was enacted before state law allowing for such cameras, was illegal.  The Third District Court of Appeal in City of Aventura vs. Masone, Case Number 2011WL5964359 (Fla. App. 3 Dist.)concluded the opposite and held Aventura’s red-light camera ordinance was legal even though it also was enacted before the state law allowing red-light cameras.  Given that two District Courts of Appeal issued conflicting opinions, the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the issue.  On June 12, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court held that any municipality imposing penalties for red-light camera violations before July 1, 2010, the effective date of the state statute authorizing red-light cameras, was in violation of state law.  Specifically, the municipal ordinances authorizing red-light cameras and fines for red-light camera violations before July 1, 2010 were expressly preempted by Chapter 316 and Chapter 318, F.S.  Therefore, any fines collected from red-light cameras prior to this date would have to be returned.  It is important to note that this case only covers municipalities that installed red-light cameras and imposed red-light camera violation fines before July 1, 2010.  It does not cover red-light camera violations and penalties imposed after that date.

2. South Florida Water Management District v. RLI Live Oak LLC
Case Number SC12-2336.  Evidentiary Burden To Enforce Regulatory Programs Through Monetary Penalties.
In 2008, the South Florida Water Management District (the “District”) sued to enjoin a landowner’s unpermitted dredging and filling activities on land in Osceola County that harmed environmentally sensitive areas.  It also sought civil penalties against the landowner.  The Trial Court ordered remediation of the lands to correct the environmental damage and awarded $81,900.00 in civil penalties.  In doing so, the Trial Court concluded that the District had proven the regulatory violation by the traditional “preponderance of the evidence” standard.  The landowners appealed to the Fifth District Court of Appeal alleging, among other things, that the District had to prove the violations by the tougher “clear and convincing evidence” standard rather than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in order to impose monetary penalties.  The Fifth District agreed with the landowner and reversed the Trial Court’s award of civil penalties.  On May 22, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the Fifth District and ruled in favor of the District.  The Florida Supreme Court wrote that when a statute authorizes a governmental agency to recover a civil penalty in a court of competent jurisdiction, but does not specify the agency’s burden of proof, the agency is only required to prove the violation by a preponderance of the evidence.  This case is important to municipalities because it clarifies that when a statute is silent on the burden of proof for regulatory violations (i.e. code enforcement violations under Chapter 162, F.S.), the burden of proof will be a preponderance of the evidence standard.

3. Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics—Model Ownership Disclosure Form for Business Entities Appearing Before Municipal Commissions, Councils and Boards:

The Palm Beach County Code of Ethics prohibits elected and appointed officials from using their official position to give themselves, certain individuals, and certain business entities (i.e. their outside employer or business) a special financial benefit not shared with similarly situated members of the general public.  Sometimes it is not apparent to the elected or appointed official whether the business entities appearing before them create a voting conflict given that the actual applicant may be a subsidiary or parent company of the prohibited entity or the prohibited entity is doing business under a different name.  The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics has encountered this situation on multiple occasions.  Therefore, COE staff and the League have worked together to create a model ownership disclosure form for business entities appearing before municipal commissions, councils and boards.  The purpose of this form is to ask business entities appearing before a municipal commission, council or board as part of a formal application process to disclose who owns them and whether they are doing business under any other names.  THIS FORM IS NOT MANDATORY.  It will be up to each individual municipality whether to incorporate the form into their application process.  It also is important to note that this form does not excuse an elected or appointed official from conducting reasonable inquiry or due diligence into whether a voting conflict exists under the Palm Beach County Code of Ethics.  The goal of this form is to provide elected and appointed officials with additional information in order to help screen for potential voting conflicts. 

4. Town of Gulf Stream et al vs. Palm Beach County, and Sharon R. Bock, as Clerk and Comptroller of Palm Beach County, Intervenor

Case No. 502011CA017953XXXXMB.  Inspector General Funding Lawsuit.
Fourteen municipalities sued Palm Beach County challenging the method of funding for the Inspector General Program (the “OIG Program”).  The current funding method authorizes the Board of County Commissioners to set an amount the municipalities must pay for the OIG Program, and to bill municipalities for that amount.  The municipalities contend that the current funding method is an unlawful tax and invades municipal home rule budgetary authority.  On March 19, 2014, the Trial Court issued an order setting the case for trial during the trial docket commencing on August 4, 2014, and ending on August 29, 2014.  A specific trial date will be assigned on July 25, 2014.  No further action has been taken by the Trial Court at this time.