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Corcoran v. Geffin

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

June 28, 2018

Richard Corcoran, in his official capacity as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and Joe Negron, in his official capacity as President of the Florida Senate, Petitioners,
v.
Alexis F. Geffin; Ryan J. Geffin; Thomas A. Warren; Kathleen Villacorta; Governor Rick Scott, in his official capacity as Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board Of Education; Florida State Board of Education; Florida Board of Governors of the State University System; and Pam Stewart, in her official capacity as Florida Commission of Education, Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

         Petition for Writ of Prohibition-Original Jurisdiction.

          George N. Meros, Jr., of Holland & Knight LLP, Tallahassee; Andy Bardos and Ashley Lukis of GrayRobinson, P.A., Tallahassee, for Petitioners.

          Eugene E. Stearns, Grace L. Mead, and Morgan Q. McDonough of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A., Miami; Glenn Burhans, Jr., and Kelly O'Keefe of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A., Tallahassee, for Respondents.

          Wolf, J.

         The petitioners in these consolidated cases, the President of the Florida Senate and the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (the Legislature), seek a writ of prohibition finding that the circuit court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate two class action complaints filed against them by several of the respondents, who are university students and donors, that alleged the Legislature has failed to match donations made to universities as required by statute. The remaining defendants to that complaint, Governor Rick Scott, Florida State Board of Education, Florida State Board of Governors of the State University System, and the Commissioner on Education, filed a response agreeing this court should issue the writ of prohibition for the reasons stated in the petition.

         We grant the petition in part. The circuit court does not have jurisdiction to declare that the Legislature's failure to appropriate funds constitutes a violation of the single subject requirement pursuant to article III, section 12 of the Florida Constitution, as alleged in Count 1 of the complaint. The court also lacks the jurisdiction to grant one of the remedies sought in the complaint-an injunction prohibiting the Legislature from adopting future appropriations bills that do not contain specific appropriations for matching donations- because doing so would violate the separation of powers doctrine as set forth in article II, section 3 and article V, section 14(d) of the Florida Constitution. Thus, we grant the petition as to Count 1 and the injunctive relief sought by respondents.

         We deny the petition as to Count 2, which alleges breach of contract, and Count 4, which seeks declaratory relief.[1] While we share many of the misgivings raised by counsel for the Legislature regarding the sufficiency of the allegations as to these counts and whether the circuit court will ultimately be able to fashion a remedy that is not violative of separation of powers principles, we cannot determine at this stage of the litigation that the circuit court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate these claims.

         Facts

         Respondents/plaintiffs, [2] two donors to Florida State University and two recent students at the University of Florida, filed class action complaints against the Legislature and other officials and subdivisions of the State of Florida for failing to match private donations to colleges and universities with public funds as required by the following four matching statutes: sections 1011.85, 1011.32, 1011.94, and 1013.79, Florida Statutes (matching statutes). Respondents argue that pursuant to these statutes, when the donors made their donations, they entered into gift agreements with the universities that constituted contracts. Due to a matching backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars, each matching statute was amended in 2011 with the following language:

Effective July 1, 2011, state matching funds are temporarily suspended for donations received for this program on or after June 30, 2011. Existing eligible donations remain eligible for future matching funds. The program may be restarted after $200 million of the backlog for programs under [the four matching statutes] have been matched.

§§ 1011.85(13), 1011.32(13), 1011.94(8), 1013.79(12), Fla. Stat.

         Respondents' complaints asserted five counts: (1) violation of article III, section 12 of the Florida Constitution's requirement that general appropriations actions address no other subject; (2) breach of contract; (3) violation of article IX, section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution's requirement for the adequate provision of higher education; (4) declaratory relief; and (5) a writ of mandamus compelling the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the Commissioner of Education to request matching funds. They sought relief that included an injunction prohibiting the Legislature from enacting appropriations bills that do not provide matching funds, a declaratory judgment, a writ of mandamus against the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the Commissioner of Education, or alternatively, any necessary equitable relief.

         The petitioners moved to dismiss the complaint. At a hearing on petitioners' motions to dismiss, the circuit court ruled that respondents' complaints adequately pleaded four of their five causes of action.

         The trial court ruled as follows:

Count 1 alleges a violation of the Florida Constitution's requirement that laws on appropriations address no other subject. That provision is found in article III, section 12 of the Florida Constitution. Both complaints allege that by not appropriating money, the Legislature is changing the funding formula in the matching statutes. Based on the language in City of North Miami v. Florida Defenders of the Environment, 481 So.2d 1196 (Fla. 1985), the court finds Count 1 states a cause of action and denies the motions to dismiss as to that count.
Count 2 alleges breach of contract. The allegation in paragraph 211 of their complaint is that Donor Plaintiffs entered into Gift Agreements with the Florida State University and the Florida State University Foundation for each $100, 000 donation. Defendants argue that this claim fails because, even if the agreements are contracts, Defendants are not parties. Each Gift Agreement is attached to the complaint, signed by the Donor Plaintiffs and the president of Florida State University, the president of Florida State University Foundation, and other high-ranking State University Officials. Plaintiffs argue that each statute authorized Florida's colleges and universities to enter into such agreements to bind the State to match. Alumni Plaintiffs are third-party beneficiaries of those contracts. Each college and ...

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