Budget Proposals Brought Into Citrus Legal Fight

Daniel CooperCitrus, Industry News Release

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(NSF) — Attorneys for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Wednesday alerted the Florida Supreme Court that new legislative budget proposals include more than $19 million to address a legal battle over the state cutting down Lee County homeowners’ healthy citrus trees. Fried’s office took the battle to the Supreme Court after the 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered the state to pay the homeowners for the trees, which were cut down amid efforts to stop the spread of citrus canker disease.

In a filing last month at the Supreme Court, Fried’s attorneys said the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) wants to pay the homeowners but can’t do so without an appropriation of money from the Legislature.

On Wednesday, the attorneys filed what is known as a “request for judicial notice” informing the Supreme Court that new House and Senate budget proposals include money to pay the homeowners. The Senate would set aside $19,173,978 to resolve the Lee County case, matching an amount requested by the FDACS. The House would provide $19,058,346 for the Lee County case and would spend $42,149,947 to resolve a similar case in Orange County.

Fried’s attorneys wrote that the “proposed appropriations are relevant to the department’s argument that the control of funding to pay the judgments is with the Florida Legislature, and that the department has done all it can do to attempt to obtain an appropriation to pay the underlying judgments.”

The Lee County class-action lawsuit was filed against the department in 2003 for taking 33,957 healthy citrus trees on 11,811 residential properties, according to the appeals-court decision. In 2014, after a jury trial, the Lee County homeowners were awarded $13.625 million plus interest, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. After the judgment was not paid, the case went back to court, with a circuit judge and the appeals court ordering the state to make the payments.

The rulings said the state had violated a constitutional ban on taking property without paying full compensation.

Source: News Service of Florida

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