A long-running legal battle between the state and South Florida property owners over the removal of healthy citrus trees could find itself playing out in the Florida Supreme Court this week.
At the center of the latest chapter in the battle is $37.4 million that the Legislature included in next year’s budget which is set to take effect on Saturday.
The money was intended to compensate property owners in Broward and Lee counties where 167,677 healthy trees were destroyed from 2000 to 2006 in an effort to eradicate citrus canker. More than 70,000 residential properties were affected.
Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the appropriation earlier this month citing ongoing litigation in the matter.
In a lawsuit filed in the Florida Supreme Court last week, the property owners question Scott’s veto of the money.
They contend the judgments in the Broward and Lee cases are final. They argue the only case still being litigated is in Miami-Dade County and claim that has no affect on the judgments already handed down in their cases.
On Monday, attorneys representing Scott responded to the suit, arguing that the governor has broad veto power and that his veto of the compensation money is constitutional.
In their lawsuit, the property owner’s claim the governor’s veto “undermines the state’s constitutional obligation to pay full compensation for the taking of private property.”
“The constitutional provision does not afford the state the luxury of avoiding payment of the full compensation awarded to petitioners,” the lawsuit goes on to say.
In their response filed Monday, attorneys for the governor dispute that argument.
They claim there is nothing in the “text or history of Florida’s Constitution” that suggests certain appropriations are categorically immune from the veto power,” Scott’s attorneys said. “And petitioners’ claim that they are entitled to the payment notwithstanding the governor’s line-item veto is irreconcilable with the constitutional command that `no money shall be drawn from the treasury except in pursuance of appropriation made by law.’ “
The property owners say they took their lawsuit directly to the supreme court since the new fiscal year starts July 1 and they don’t have enough time to go through the normal court process.
It ‘s now up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether it will hear the case.