United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
FLUID DYNAMICS HOLDINGS LLC, A Delaware Limited Liability Company, Plaintiff,
CITY OF JACKSOVILLE, et al., Defendants.
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the City of Jacksonville's independent electric
authority, entitled to sovereign immunity such that Florida
Statute § 768.28, which governs tort claims against
governmental entities, applies to tort actions against JEA?
The answer is yes.
case is before the Court on Defendant JEA's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment on the Affirmative Defense of
Sovereign Immunity (Doc. 53), to which Plaintiff Fluid
Dynamics Holdings LLC has responded (Doc. 56). With the
Court's permission, JEA filed a reply (Doc. 59), and
Fluid Dynamics filed a sur-reply (Doc. 60). On January 3,
2017, the Court held a hearing on this issue, (See
Docs. 46, 47, 54), the record of which is incorporated by
to its Complaint, Fluid Dynamics manufactured the
“Precision Flow System, ” a product engineered to
“[conserve] water and substantially [reduce] water
bills.” (Doc. 1 ¶ 13). Mid-America Apartment
Communities, Inc. (“MAA”) entered into an
agreement with Fluid Dynamics to place Precision Flow System
valves on some of MAA's properties. (Id.
¶¶ 16-17). Under this agreement, Fluid Dynamics
installed Precision Flow System valves on eight MAA
properties in Jacksonville, Florida. (Id. ¶
17). Both the City of Jacksonville and JEA knew that Fluid
Dynamics installed these valves at MAA properties.
(Id. ¶ 18).
November 2012, JEA discovered that Fluid Dynamics installed
two Precision Flow Systems on fire lines at MAA properties.
(Id. ¶ 21). On December 3, 2012,
representatives of JEA, Fluid Dynamics, and MAA met to
discuss what to do about the Precision Flow System valves
installed on fire lines, and Fluid Dynamics “agreed to
remove its installations from the two fire lines.”
(Id. ¶¶ 22-25).
next day, First Coast News, a Jacksonville news outlet,
published a negative story about MAA, Fluid Dynamics, and the
Precision Flow System. (Id. ¶ 26). The story
was titled “Apartment Company's Efforts to Trim
Water Bills could be Putting Jacksonville Tenants in
Danger.” (Id.). In the story, JEA accused
Fluid Dynamics of “meter tampering” and stated
that the Precision Flow System “can be a safety issue
in the case of a fire.” (Id. ¶¶
news story damaged Fluid Dynamics' business relationship
with MAA. (Id. ¶¶ 37-41). After it aired,
MAA terminated its contract with Fluid Dynamics and removed
all previously installed Precision Flow System valves from
MAA's properties in Jacksonville. (Id. ¶
37). Shortly thereafter, the City of Jacksonville provided a
multimillion dollar incentive and subsidy package to MAA.
(Id. ¶¶ 39-40).
Dynamics also alleges that JEA interfered with Fluid
Dynamics' business relationship with Saint John's
County, Florida. (See id. ¶¶ 87-94). In
January 2013, Fluid Dynamics agreed to sell the Precision
Flow System to St. John's County. (Id.
¶¶ 87-94). Fluid Dynamics alleges that when JEA
learned of this relationship, JEA “threatened to remove
municipal and utility cooperation and assistance from St.
John's County if St. John's County continued its
business relationship with” Fluid Dynamics.
(Id. ¶ 61)
Dynamics alleges that JEA made defamatory statements about
Fluid Dynamics and the Precision Flow System (Count I); that
JEA tortiously interfered with Fluid Dynamics'
contractual relationship with MAA (Count II); and that JEA
intentionally interfered with Fluid Dynamics' business
relationship with St. John's County (Count III).
(Id.). On January 2, 2017, after the Court set a
hearing on JEA's Motion for Protective Order (Doc. 46),
moved for partial summary judgment on the affirmative defense
of sovereign immunity. (Doc. 53). JEA seeks a dispositive
ruling to determine whether it “is immune from tort
liability except to the extent that it is waived in Fla.
Stat. § 768.28.” (Id. at 2).
Sovereign Immunity and Florida Law
immunity is a common law doctrine that developed in medieval
England. Cauley v. City of Jacksonville, 403 So.2d
379, 381 (Fla. 1981). The doctrine comes “from the
concept that one could not sue the king in his own courts;
hence the phrase ‘the king can do no wrong.'”
Id. In the United States, both the states and the
federal government “fully embraced the sovereign
immunity theory.” Id. (citing Restatement
(Second) of Torts § 895B, comment a at 400 (1979)).
Thus, at common law, “state governments, their
agencies, and their subdivisions could not be sued in state
courts without state consent.” Id.
1973, the Florida legislature enacted section 768.28, Florida
Statutes, waiving “sovereign immunity for liability for
torts.” Fla. Stat. § 768.28(1). The statute's
waiver specifically applies to “the state or any of its
agencies or subdivisions.” Id. The statute
provides that “state agencies or subdivisions include .
. . independent establishments of the state, including . . .
counties and municipalities; and corporations acting
primarily as instrumentalities or agencies of the state,
counties, or municipalities.” Id. §
Florida's waiver of sovereign immunity is limited.
See Id. § 768.28(5). Tort liability for the
state, its agencies, or its subdivisions “shall not
include punitive damages or interest for the period before
judgment.” Id. Neither will the state, its
agencies, nor its subdivisions “be liable to pay a
claim or a judgment by any one person which exceeds the sum
of $200, 000.” Id. Therefore, a plaintiff who
pursues a tort claim against Florida or one of Florida's