In a 20-year-old private property rights issue, homeowners will split more than $19M for their healthy citrus trees that were cut down by Fla.’s Dept. of Agriculture.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After the Florida Legislature provided money and a check was sent, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a nearly two-decade legal battle over the state cutting down Lee County homeowners’ healthy citrus trees.
Lawmakers this year approved spending more than $19 million to pay a judgment in the class-action lawsuit, which stemmed from trees being cut down as part of efforts to stop the spread of citrus-canker disease.
The lawsuit was filed against the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2003 for taking 33,957 healthy citrus trees on 11,811 residential properties, according to an 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.
But after the state failed to pay the judgment, the case went back to court, with a circuit judge and the 2nd District Court of Appeal ordering the payments. The rulings said the state had violated a constitutional ban on taking property without paying full compensation.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services appealed to the Supreme Court, but lawmakers in March included money in the budget to pay the judgment, with a check for $19,173,978 sent last month to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, according to a copy of the check filed at the Supreme Court.
Justices on Thursday dismissed the case as moot and also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees. The amount of fees will be determined by a circuit judge.
Source: News Service of Florida