On Tuesday, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal will hold oral arguments in a number of cases, including in Pacific Legal Foundation‘s P.I.E., LLC v. DeSoto County. Christina Martin and I will represent P.I.E., and Christina will argue the cause.
The Daily Signal, a publication of The Heritage Foundation, just published my op-ed on the case. I set out why the injustice done by a local Florida government to our client, Tom Finney, the principal behind P.I.E., LLC, should lead to the appeals court reversing the lower court’s erroneous decision:
The dispute arises from a family business and an effort to make the business a little more successful.
Finney, who with his family owned Finney & Sons septic and excavating business in southwest Florida, decided to buy property. His intention was to mine it for sand and fill in order to increase the business’ profits on contracting work—otherwise, he would have to buy the fill on the market at a higher price.
Finney asked DeSoto County’s Planning Department for instruction on where to purchase property in the county for that purpose, and the county told him to find certain zoned property—at least 20 acres in size—with good road access.
Finney found the right-sized lot with good road access and zoned for his planned use. County staff members approved the site.
Finney then formed a partnership with a colleague in the same business, and they created P.I.E., LLC (Partners In Excavating). P.I.E. purchased the property for $1.25 million.
In its condition as a grove at the time of the purchase, the property was worth $1.1 million. But as an excavation site, it was worth $3.3 million.
Finney and his partner then invested over $250,000 to survey the property, retain an engineer, secure a water management district permit, and ultimately submit a complete excavation permit application to DeSoto County.
County staff accepted the excavation permit application, deemed it complete, and told Finney that the application complied with all the county’s rules. The DeSoto County planner, county attorney, county engineer, and county manager all recommended to the County Commission that it approve the permit.
The County Commission reviewed the application in a public hearing and, against the staff recommendation, rejected the permit application with a generalized complaint about protecting the “health, safety, and welfare” of the county.
Perhaps the many neighbors—and voters—who showed up at the meeting and demanded the commissioners ignore Finney’s property rights had something to do with the vote. Who could know?
Two months later, the county passed a revised excavation ordinance that rendered Finney’s plans for the property dead. Finney and his business lost over $2 million as a result.
In fact, Finney lost his family business altogether. Finney & Sons could not survive the blow.
Twenty-one years ago, the Florida Legislature passed a law—the Harris Act—to ensure private property rights received the protection our Constitution demands. The Legislature designed that law to address just this kind of situation.
But the trial court refused to follow the Harris Act. It determined the county could make promises to Finney, watch him act on those promises, and then renege on the deal it had struck, with no consequences for the county.
Too often in the years since passing the Harris Act, Florida’s courts have failed to respect private property rights, instead siding with government over individuals—just as the lower court did to Finney.
It’s time for the courts to start correcting course. This case gives the 2nd District Court of Appeal a chance to do so.
Read the whole thing. Thank you to Heritage and The Daily Signal for sharing our client’s story. We will report back on how the oral argument goes later thi week.