Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Collins and Shands Regulatory Taking Decisions Reversed by Third DCA

The Third District Court of Appeal released its REVERSALS of Circuit Judge Audlin's dismissals of Collins, et al., v Monroe County & The State of Florida, and Shands v. City of Marathon, on New Year's Eve -- six months after oral argument. And the opinion is signed by District Judge Suarez -- not Chief Judge Gersten -- so I got that part wrong.

You can read the opinions by clicking on their captions in the previous sentence. You can also view them on the Court's website by clicking on the title of this post. The Collins case number is 3D07-1603; Shands is case number 3D07-3288.

After extensive hearings before Chief Judge Richard Payne after the Collins case was filed in late 2004 -- all favorable to the landowners -- his successor, David Audlin, made it very clear that he was going to get rid of our regulatory taking cases any way he could. He did just that by declaring that the 11 Collins landowners had not sued within four years of the effective dates of the County's confiscatory ordinances. Rescinding Judge Payne's rulings in the landowners' favor -- without even the merest request to do so from the defendants -- Judge Audlin ruled that the County's unique Beneficial Use Determination ("BUD") process did not "ripen" an as-applied taking claim. Following this train of thought, he ruled that the Plaintiffs had not filed their taking claims within the four-year statute of limitation.

On appeal, government counsel (including the County's multi-million dollar lawyers from Kansas City) argued that the BUD process was a meaningless exercise -- despite the fact that this same Court of Appeal had ruled otherwise in one of our earlier cases, Key West v Berg, 655 So. 2d 196 (Fla 3d DCA 1995), and despite the fact that Michael Berg, counsel in the companion Shands case (argued back-to-back with Collins), had successfully convinced the Third DCA in Key West v Berg that a landowner had to go through the BUD process to ripen a regulatory taking claim.

Given their propensity for obfuscation and delay, I guarantee government counsel will move for rehearings in both Collins and Shands -- without success -- and will seek discretionary review by the Florida Supreme Court -- which will be denied, in part because the Third DCA's opinions in these cases only affect a single Florida County. So we probably will not be back in the trial court for another six months.

Note added 1/1/09: Judge Suarez' opinions in Collins and Shands suffer slightly from some irrelevant dicta (dicta = statements made by the court that are not based upon the record, nor necessary to the decision in which they appear), perhaps intended to reduce the impact of his opinions on Monroe County's psyche. In particular, we note Judge Suarez' dicta that there were no zoning ordinances in Monroe County before 1986, leading to his suggestion that, just maybe, some landowners who bought before 1986 may have no investment backed expectations. Not only are these remarks outside the record, but they assume an incorrect premise. Monroe County's first formal zoning regulations were adopted on December 8, 1959, and became effective January 4, 1960. Prior to that, there were recorded, platted subdivisions that established residential land use densities as early as the 1920's. While there are times when dicta can be helpful, dicta based on erroneous assumptions are not helpful. We will probably bring this matter before the Court before the opinions become final.

Once the Third DCA denies the governments' motions for rehearing, the Collins and Shands decisions become final. At that point, we expect the Court will remand the Sutton v Monroe County, McCole v Marathon, and Beyer v Marathon cases to the trial court -- as they all suffer from the same wrong logic as Collins and Shands. McCole and Beyer are Audlin dismissals, and were expected. Sutton was dismissed by Judge Garcia, much to our surprise and dismay. There are also some housecleaning issues we need to take care of when these cases come back to the trial courts. Happy New Year, Everyone!

No comments: