Cities Victorious on Several Fronts in Lawsuit Against State Officials
Above: Lead Attorney Jamie Cole addresses the press surrounded by local elected officials represented in the lawsuit.
On Monday, July 29, 2019 a Press Conference was held in the Commission Chambers of Weston City Hall to announce that the Honorable Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson entered a “Final Summary Judgment for Plaintiffs and Against Defendants” in a consolidated lawsuit brought by 30 cities, 3 counties and more than 70 local elected officials invalidating the penalties for violation of the State’s preemption of local regulation of firearms.
The lawsuit was initiated in April 2018 by the City of Weston, joined by nine other South Florida municipalities, against then Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other State officials. Since that time, the suit was joined by many other cities and elected officials, and was consolidated with two other similar lawsuits. The current defendants in the consolidated lawsuit are Governor Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried and Director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Rick Swearingen.
At the heart of the matter:
Florida law currently prohibits local governments from enacting gun safety laws in their own municipalities, with severe and unprecedented personal penalties, including civil fines up to $5,000 and removal from office, for officials who violate this preemption. If sued, officials could not use public funds for their legal defense. Local governments also face potential lawsuits for attorneys’ fees and damages up to $100,000.
What the lawsuit sought:
The penalties were designed to prevent local governments from considering reasonable firearms regulations that could even arguably be considered preempted. The cities and local officials sought to invalidate the unprecedented penalties so that they could represent their constituents. Many states have firearm preemption laws, but Florida was the first in 2011 to go so far as to punish local officials with personal fines and the threat of removal from office for trying to do what they feel is their job.
What the Court Decision Does and Does Not Do:
The Court’s decision invalidates the extreme and extraordinary penalties that deter and chill local officials from even considering reasonable, constitutional firearms regulations in their own communities.
The Court’s order found that the onerous personal penalties against local officials, and claims for damages against local governments, for violating the preemption against local regulation of firearms are invalid and unconstitutional because they:
- Violate legislative immunity and separation of powers
- Violate governmental function immunity
- Conflict with the Governor’s limited power to remove local government officials
- Impair existing contracts with County Administrators
The Judge declared all of the penalties to be invalid on these grounds. The local governments had also raised other challenges to the same penalty provisions, including claims based upon free speech, vagueness and due process, which the Judge did not accept.
In summary, lead attorney and Weston City Attorney Jamie Alan Cole states, "This ruling gives cities the ability to pass legislation that tests the boundaries of the firearm preemption, without the fear of being thrown out of office or penalized. The decision is well-written, well-reasoned and is based upon decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the Florida Supreme Court and the various Florida District Courts of Appeal, and is based upon doctrines that are bedrocks of American democracy."
Mayor Daniel J. Stermer noted, "Judge Dodson's July 26th ruling wherein he found the personal penalties unconstitutional was well-reasoned and based upon the constitution and legal precedent and restored my faith that an independent judiciary can review actions taken by the Florida Legislature and rule fairly and on balance - the preemption underlying the stricken provisions remains and the City Commission will review what action, if any, to consider going forward relative to firearms."
Photo Below: Weston Mayor Daniel J. Stermer speaks at the podium; Far left: Weston City Commissioner Byron L. Jaffe.