House advances bill aimed at curbing endless litigation over local development plans

by | Feb 22, 2023

  • A Florida House panel on Wednesday approved a bill that would make it riskier to use the state’s administrative court system to challenge changes to city and county development growth-management plans.
  • The bill would allow the winning party in a challenge to recover legal fees, which is aimed at reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits filed to stop development plans.
  • Supporters say that the bill would only apply where due process violations or departures from the law were proven, while opponents argue that it will hurt non-profit organizations and small challengers.

A House panel Wednesday approved a proposal that could lead to people and organizations getting hit with the tab for legal fees if they unsuccessfully challenge changes to comprehensive growth-management plans. The House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee approved the bill (HB 359) despite opposition from environmental groups.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Wyman Duggan, R-Jacksonville, would allow “prevailing” parties to recoup legal fees in comprehensive-plan challenges at the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Representatives of environmental groups said the possibility of getting hit with large legal costs if they lose could prevent people and organizations from challenging growth-management decisions by local governments.

“If you pass this bill, you will be putting an insurmountable financial barrier to non-profits like mine and you will be giving an advantage to only local governments and the most-wealthy developers,” Ryan Smart, executive director of the Florida Springs Council, told the House panel.

But Duggan said that if groups “allege and can prove a due-process violation and a departure from the essential requirements of the law, then they should prevail and they’ll get their attorney fees under this change. But if they merely disagree with the local government’s legislative decision-making, then perhaps this (a legal case) isn’t the venue in which they should pursue that challenge. Perhaps they should continue to lobby their local government officials to have a less-expansive view of growth.”


  1. Deborah Coffey

    Florida: Everything for business, NOTHING for people.

  2. Jane West

    “Endless litigation over development plans”??? What are you talking about? Since 2019 there have only been 2 citizen challenges to development orders in the entire state of Florida. The number of comp plan amendment challenges is likewise very low because they are expensive to bring, require lots of quick gearing up for expedited hearings, expert witness expenses, & discovery. Then they are just overturned by the Administration Commission anyway so these comp plan amendment challenges are few and far between. It hardly can be considered endless litigation. I’m actually surprised the sponsor wants this bill to pass. His law firm, Rogers Towers, has done quite well over the years representing developers in these cases. It this bill passes, developer attorneys throughout the state won’t be left with much litigation, no one will want to take the financial risk of challenging anything. Arguably, developer attorneys won’t even be needed at all in comp plans if this passes. Comp plan amendments and development orders can simply be walked through the local government hearing process by a decent planner.

%d bloggers like this: