PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA, an Independent and Chartered Florida County, Appellant,
THE RICHMAN GROUP OF FLORIDA, INC., a Florida corporation, Appellee.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; Walter L.
Schafer, Jr., Judge.
H. Walbolt, Chris W. Altenbernd, and Nicholas A. Brown of
Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A., Tampa; and James Bennett,
Pinellas County Attorney's Office, Clearwater, for
V. Curry, III, Scott A. McLaren, E.D. Armstrong, III, and
Fred C. Marshall, II of Hill, Ward & Henderson, P.A.,
Tampa, for Appellee.
County appeals the final judgment awarding the Richman Group
of Florida, Inc., over $16.5 million in damages under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 (2012), based on the trial court's
conclusion that the County violated Richman's substantive
due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution by denying
Richman's proposed amendment to the County's land use
plan. Because the trial court erred in concluding that the
County had no rational basis to deny the proposed amendment,
we reverse the final judgment. In light of this disposition,
we do not reach the County's remaining arguments.
2012, Richman executed a contract to purchase 34.55 acres of
land in the City of Safety Harbor subject to Richman
obtaining certain government approvals to develop the land.
At issue in this appeal is Richman's attempt to obtain
approval of an amendment to the Countywide Future Land Use
Plan that would have changed the land use designation of
roughly sixteen acres of land from Industrial Limited (IL) to
Residential Medium (RM) so that Richman could develop the
property in a way that is not permitted on land with the IL
The Legislative Framework
the Special Act governing the County's land use plan,
only a local government with jurisdiction over the subject
property may submit a proposal to amend the plan to the
Pinellas Planning Council. Ch. 90-396, § 10(4)(a), at
40, Laws of Fla. The Council reviews the proposal and makes a
recommendation to approve, deny, continue, or alter it.
Id. § 10(4)(a), (b), at 40. If the Council
recommends approval, it forwards the proposal along with its
recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners for a
public hearing and vote in the Board's capacity as the
County Planning Authority (CPA). Id. §
10(4)(d), at 40. If the CPA votes to deny the proposal, any
substantially affected person may seek a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) pursuant to Chapter 120,
Florida Statutes; this hearing "is limited to a review
of the facts pertaining to the subject property, the
countywide future land use plan, and those rules, standards,
policies, and procedures applicable thereto."
Id. § 10(4)(d), (f), at 40-41. The hearing
"is not the appropriate forum for a constitutional
challenge." Id. § 10(4)(f), at 41. After
the hearing, the ALJ's "recommended order shall be
forwarded to and considered by the [CPA] in a final hearing.
The basis for the [CPA's] final decision approving or
denying the proposed amendment is limited to the findings of
fact of the [ALJ]." Id. § 10(4)(d), at
40-41. The CPA's decisions under the act "are
legislative in nature" and are subject to judicial
review. Id. § 10(4)(g), at 41. Importantly,
nothing in the Special Act mandates that proposed amendments
that are consistent with the amendment review criteria must
be granted by the CPA.
with this legislative framework, Richman applied to the City
of Safety Harbor to initiate the process of amending the
County's land use plan. After the Safety Harbor
Commission approved Richman's proposal by a vote of 3-2,
despite significant neighborhood opposition to it, the city
submitted the proposal to the Council, which recommended
approval by a vote of 8-5. The Council forwarded the proposal
to the CPA along with its recommendation to approve the
2013, the CPA considered Richman's proposal at a public
hearing where hundreds of residents from the area surrounding
the subject property expressed opposition to the amendment.
The residents articulated specific, rational concerns that
amending the land use designation to allow Richman's
planned development of the property would cause traffic,
transportation, safety, and economic problems. Members of the
CPA, as well as some of the residents, highlighted the
scarcity of IL-designated land in the area and explained that
removing the IL designation would harm the local economy
because it would result in even less land available to
support "target employers" that bring high-paying
jobs to the County's residents. Citing Resolution 06-3,
which set forth "the need to reserve industrial parcels
for target employers" in Pinellas County, the CPA
unanimously voted to deny the amendment.
The Administrative Proceedings
person substantially affected by the CPA's denial,
Richman obtained a hearing before an ALJ. The parties
stipulated that the issue to be decided at that hearing was
"[t]he manner in, and extent to, which the amendment is
consistent" with the criteria in the rules governing
amendments to the County's land use plan. The rules,
promulgated pursuant to the Special Act, provide that
"[i]n the consideration of a regular Countywide Plan Map
amendment, it is the objective of these Countywide Rules to
evaluate the amendment so as to make a balanced legislative
determination based on" certain relevant considerations.
The crux of the parties' dispute at this hearing was
whether Resolution 06-3 was part of these relevant
considerations. Agreeing with Richman, the ALJ resolved this
dispute by finding that "Resolution 06-3 . . . is not a
source of criteria applicable to the [a]mendment"
because that resolution had not been "repeated,
paraphrased, or adopted by reference in the Countywide
Rules." Thus, to the extent that the CPA denied the
amendment because it was inconsistent with the relevant
considerations in the rules-namely, Resolution 06-3-the ALJ
concluded that the amendment was indeed consistent with the
relevant criteria. However, the ALJ did not find, or
otherwise conclude, that the CPA had to approve the amendment
because it was consistent.
did find that other sections of the rules were relevant to
the dispute. Among those other sections, the ALJ highlighted
section 188.8.131.52.1, which provides the following purpose
behind the IL designation:
It is the purpose of this category to depict those areas of
the county that are now developed, or appropriate to be
developed, in a limited industrial manner; and so as to
encourage the reservation and use of consolidated areas for
industrial and industrial/mixed use in a manner and location
consistent with ...