After years of litigation over whether Florida should reimburse residents whose healthy citrus trees were cut down in an effort to eradicate citrus canker, the Florida Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Rick Scott's veto of $37.4 million appropriated by the state legislature that would have paid judgments to homeowners in two counties. Bogorf v. Scott, No. 17-1155 (Fla., order entered July 13, 2017). From 2000 to 2006, Florida attempted to eradicate citrus canker in the state, eventually chopping down more than 500,000 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state located within 1,900 feet of an infected tree, even if the trees showed no signs of the disease.
In May 2017, lawmakers budgeted funds to pay previous judgments awarded to homeowners in Lee and Broward counties, two of the five counties affected. Gov. Scott used a line-item veto to stop the budgeted payments; the Lee county plaintiffs then sought and won an order of mandamus directing the state to pay $14.5 million in damages plus post-judgment interest. However, the state's highest court has now upheld the veto by a 6-1 vote, holding that the proper forum to challenge the governor’s veto authority is the circuit court.
The lone dissenter, Justice Fred Lewis, reportedly criticized both the court’s decision and the governor, pointing out that the plaintiffs won their class action cases years ago. “This is not a game, and our citizens should not be toyed with as if a yo-yo, and yet that is exactly what this veto accomplishes,” Lewis wrote. “We simply cannot allow another 10 years to go by for the Executive to continue playing games of hide the money through a veto power and word games in the courts. . . . Furthermore, every day that goes by, the State owes more and more in post-judgment interest for a judgment that has long been final.”
Concurring Justice Barbara Pariente said although the court’s decision was correct on legal grounds, the homeowners deserved payment after winning in court after court. “These petitioners have the right to full compensation,” she wrote. “The time has come for the state to pay up.” See Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel, July 13, 2017.