Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Beach Tax Lawsuit Tanked

WHEREAS, Santa Rosa Island Authority on behalf of Escambia County represented to the general public and all parties dealing with them, that the said properties on Santa Rosa Island owned by Escambia County were not subject to ad valorem taxes, and

WHEREAS, said governmental authorities induced hundreds of persons, who relied upon the representations and the decision of the Supreme Court to enter into long term leases providing for rentals and which contained many onerous provisions... .
House Bill No. 3913, 1976 Laws of Florida, chap. 76-361
Florida's First District Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a lower court decision by Pensacola circuit judge Nick Geeker which approved assessing real estate taxes on Pensacola Beach business leases. The business lease tax case was one of four lawsuits filed three years ago, when Escambia County commissioners moved to squeeze more gold out of the wounded goose known as Pensacola Beach.

Yesterday's appeals court opinion was learned and erudite; it explored the unique historical context of the on-again-off-again- on-again promises of Florida state and county government that beach leases would be tax-free, and the opinion brought to bear on the issue incisive reasoning, ample precedent, and an enlightened discussion of public policy. Right?

Not a chance. The court's opinion consists of one word: "Affirmed." That's 2.66 alphabet letters for each of the three judges (annual salary: $147,524) who issued yesterday's decision, by name Marguerite Davis, Joseph Lewis, and Clayton Roberts.

Despite the First District Court of Appeals' 1987 precedent of Bell v. Bryan I, the handwriting has been on the wall for some time with more recent court opinions like this one and this one. Few above the lowly political level of a trial judge seem willing to leave their fingerprints on it. That's one advantage of what judges call a "per curiam" (unsigned) opinion: individual judges can hide their own responsibility and reasoning, albeit at the steep price of undermining the democratic principles of accountability, transparency, and public education about the judiciary's function.

To be sure, we still await a final appellate court ruling on the main case involving Pensacola Beach residential leaseholds. So, unless you've lost faith in the impartiality and wisdom of the Florida court system (Now, stop that snickering!) don't sell your evidence on Ebay just yet.

Unless, like our friend Bryan, you think it's a Zen thing -- in which case you might want to convert your beach home to a start-up high tech "business with no track record" to get a $2 million tax break from the county.


Jerningan said...

That's $147,524 x 3 = $442,572 PER WORD by a team of 3 judges. No wonder Florida needs the taxes!

Anonymous said...

I think that the absence of any opinion IS the message that the Court wanted to send. In other words, "This is a no-brainer, folks, and it doesn't require any explanation." Oh well, at least the commercial leaseholders didn't spend a ton of money on attorney's fees...right? Right? Anybody? Anybody?

Chris said...

If the court cases fail, why not do what everyone else in this country does: file a civil suit against whoever made the false promise and then sue for the sky.

People to potentially sue would include: SRIA or the Tax collectors themselves personally and/or the State of FL or the US Goverment.

In the suit we/you would be looking to recover current/future damages based on the cumulative amounts of the estimated future tax burden based on the length of the lease(s) plus legal fees along with whatever punitive damages the court would award.

There are legal teams that would jump on a suit like this with no cost to the client (they would take all of the legal fee's paid and a large part of the punitive to represent their clients).
I have personally been involved in a suit like this in the past (on the winning side) it is a very nasty solution to a very nasty problem.


Anonymous said...

Chris, I am with you on that one. From what I've heard Statute of Limitations was cited as the reasoning for not permitting fraud civil suits. That, to me, would factor in only on the structures (2004). I want to explore that angle on the land tax proposed for 2011 and am in search of a legal team to do just that.
Anyone interested in joining, please post and perhaps we can explore this civilly. The corruption in the county makes it impossible to do it any other way at this point. Bill Post's book clearly illustrates the nationwide false advertising by date and publication. This would seem like a no brainer.

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