Florida’s top court needs to decide this week on Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of $37.4 million in compensation to homeowners that had healthy citrus trees cut down by the state, attorneys challenging the veto argued in documents filed Tuesday. The class-action lawsuit, filed last week, involves homeowners in Broward and Lee counties who won judgments against the state because of the removal of the healthy citrus trees more than a decade ago.
Lawyers for Scott argued Monday that the high court should reject the lawsuit because the governor has broad line-item veto power. But in the response filed Tuesday, attorneys for the homeowners argued that the state should fulfill its duty by paying the petitioners. The plaintiffs also asked the court to move quickly, arguing that if no decision is made before Saturday — the start of the 2017-2018 fiscal year — the state may contend the money to make any court-ordered payments isn’t in the budget.
“The next opportunity for petitioners to obtain an appropriation will come on January 9, 2018, when the Legislature reconvenes,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote. The homeowners in Broward and Lee counties won judgments against the state because of the removal of healthy trees — 167,677 healthy trees were destroyed on 70,036 residential properties from 2000 to 2006 — as part of an effort to eradicate citrus canker disease.
The lawsuit alleges that Scott’s veto violated part of the state Constitution that requires the government to pay compensation for “taking” property. Along with considering the constitutional questions, the Supreme Court likely will have to consider procedural issues about whether it should take up the case. Attorneys for the homeowners filed it directly to the Supreme Court — rather than in lower courts — and argued for quick action because of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
In vetoing the money from the budget, Scott cited “ongoing” litigation as the reason. The lawsuit disputes that explanation, saying the judgments in the Broward and Lee cases are final, and that the only ongoing litigation involves a case in Miami-Dade County.
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