- April 21, 2022
A federal judge on May 10 dismissed a lawsuit filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Florida Department of Revenue Executive Director Jim Zingale.
The dismissal came one week after Miami attorney William Sanchez filed the suit in response to SB 4-C, which dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The suit claimed, among other assertions, that SB 4-C would raise taxes for property owners in Orange and Osceola counties.
In her dismissal of the suit, Chief United States District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga cited at lease three “jurisdictional defects” in the suit.
First, the court lacks jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ state-law claims.
“The Eleventh Amendment bars such suits whether the plaintiff seeks damages or equitable relief … and whether or not the state officials’ alleged conduct violates the U.S. Constitution in addition to violating state law,” Altonaga wrote. “This limitation on federal judicial authority is jurisdictional.”
Second, Altonaga wrote: “The court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ sole remaining claim for violation of Disney’s First Amendment rights. … Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that Disney faces any hindrance in asserting its own First Amendment rights. Far from it: Plaintiffs expressly allege that they ‘expect Disney and the state of Florida to litigate this matter for a significant period of time.’ That fact alone warrants dismissal.”
Finally, Altonaga refuted the suit’s assertion that SB 4-C will raise taxes on the plaintiffs and residents of Orange and Osceola counties.
“None of Plaintiffs’ claims is ripe,” she wrote. “Senate Bill 4-C does not take effect until July 1, 2022. When a plaintiff files ‘a pre-enforcement, constitutional challenge to a state statute, the injury requirement may be satisfied by establishing a realistic danger of sustaining direct injury as a result of the statute’s operation or enforcement.’ … The plaintiff can satisfy this requirement if she is (1) “threatened with application of the statute; (2) application is likely; or (3) there is a credible threat of application.
“Plaintiffs do not meet this standard,” Altonaga wrote. “The challenged law does not apply to them, they do not allege direct harm as a result of the challenged law, and they do not plausibly allege any credible threat of direct harm in the future. Plaintiffs’ theory of standing is that the elimination of the Reedy Creek Improvement District might result in financial harm to plaintiffs by virtue of a tax increase that has not yet been enacted.
“That indirect and highly speculative alleged injury cannot support federal jurisdiction,” she wrote. “Senate Bill 4-C itself will not raise plaintiffs’ taxes. Again — it is worth emphasizing — the bill does not apply to plaintiffs at all.”
DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw reiterated that SB 4-C will not raise property taxes.
“Perhaps this will put to rest the speculation from those who are hoping — with no basis in reality — that this will end in some sort of taxpayer or state burden that partisan critics can use against the governor,” she said. “In reality, this opportunity can — and should — be utilized to generate more taxes from Disney, as the governor has said.”
Sanchez’ lawsuit listed plaintiffs as Osceola County residents Michael Foronda, Eduardo Foronda and Leslie Foronda, and Vivian Gorsky, whom the suit stated lives in Independence in Horizon West.
However, the Orange County Property Appraiser has no record of a person by that name owning property in Orange County.