Gainesville utility takeover case results in another court win for DeSantis

by | Dec 22, 2023

  • A federal judge dismissed claims against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a lawsuit challenging the overhaul of Gainesville’s municipal utility.
  • The lawsuit, filed by Gainesville Residents United, claimed the new law violated speech rights.
  • But the law’s supporters say the city engaged in “taxation without representation.”
  • The law establishes the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority, with board members appointed by DeSantis, replacing the city-controlled agency.

A federal judge has dismissed claims against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a lawsuit that challenges the restructuring of Gainesville’s utility management. The lawsuit, brought by Gainesville Residents United and individual plaintiffs, contested a state law that established the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority, shifting control away from the local city commission.

This decision by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor marks a key juncture in the ongoing legal dispute over the governance of the Gainesville Regional Utilities Agency. The law in question has been a focal point for discussions around “taxation without representation”  because rural customers who contribute to the utility’s revenue lack voting power in city elections.

The plaintiffs’ primary concern was the alleged infringement on speech rights. They argued that a provision of the law that limits the new authority’s ability to consider social, political, or ideological factors in making utility decisions, would restrict public discussion of these issues. However, Judge Winsor ruled that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate legal standing to pursue their First Amendment claim. He emphasized that the law does not prevent public discourse on various topics, but rather constrains the authority’s consideration of such interests in their utility-related decisions.

Earlier, a Leon County circuit judge had also sided with state officials in a related lawsuit filed by the city of Gainesville, further highlighting the complexities of state versus local control in public utility management. This case continues to be a significant point of interest in Florida, as it may set precedents affecting the governance of municipal utilities throughout the state.


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