BRADEN WOODS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., a Florida not for profit corporation; and LAKEWOOD RANCH MEDICAL CENTER, a Florida for profit corporation, Appellants,
MAVARD TRADING, LTD., a BVI corporation registered to transact business in Florida; DOCTORS HOSPITAL OF SARASOTA, a Florida for profit corporation; JOHN R. BARNOTT in his official capacity as the Director of Building and Development Services for Manatee County; and MANATEE COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Florida, Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Manatee County; Lon S. Arend,
K. Lincoln of the Law Office of Robert K. Lincoln, P.A.,
Sarasota, for Appellant Braden Woods Homeowners Association,
Cohen of Cohen, Blostein & Ayala, P.A., Fort Lauderdale,
for Appellant Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.
Christopher M. De Carlo and Anne M. Morris of Manatee County
Attorney's Office, Bradenton, for Appellees Manatee
County and John R. Barnott.
G. Cantero, David P. Draigh and Ryan A. Ulloa of White &
Case, LLP, Miami; and Walter J. Taché and Jennifer
Christianson of Taché, Bronis, Christianson &
Descalzo, P.A., Miami, for Appellee Doctors Hospital of
A. Thompson, Susan H. Aprill and Kirsten I. Baier of Fowler
White Burnett P.A., West Palm Beach, for Appellee Mavard
Woods Homeowners Association, Inc., and Lakewood Ranch
Medical Center (the Plaintiffs) appeal a partial final
judgment that dismissed with prejudice counts one, two, and
three of their four-count amended complaint that seeks
declaratory and injunctive relief. The Plaintiffs filed this
action against Mavard Trading, Ltd. (Mavard), Doctors
Hospital of Sarasota (Doctors), Manatee County (the County),
and John R. Barnott in his official capacity as the Director
of Building and Development Services for Manatee County
(Barnott). The Plaintiffs challenge the trial court's
dismissal of Barnott as a defendant as well as the dismissal
of counts one and two on appeal. We affirm the trial
court's order to the extent that it dismisses count three
and dismisses Barnott from the lawsuit with prejudice, and we
reverse the dismissal of counts one and two and remand for
further proceedings against Defendants Mavard, Doctors, and
action arose from the application to construct and operate a
freestanding emergency room (FSER) on property owned by
Mavard and leased to Doctors (the Property). Barnott
administratively approved the final site plan (FSP) for the
Property. Braden Woods represents the subdivision that abuts
the shopping center where the property for the FSER is
located. Lakewood Ranch is a competitor business that
operates an emergency room as part of its licensed hospital,
located within five miles of the FSER property.
Manatee County Board of County Commissioners (the Board)
approved a preliminary site plan (PSP) for the Property for a
retail site by a 2009 ordinance (the 2009 PSP Ordinance).
Upon Mavard and Doctors' application and after a public
hearing on June 2, 2016, the Board amended the PSP only to
extend the expiration of the PSP until April 2, 2018 (the
2016 PSP Ordinance). In May 2016, Mavard and Doctors applied
for FSP approval for the FSER.
Property is in the future land use category of
Retail/Office/Residential. The Property is in a planned
development district and is zoned as Planned Development
Commercial (PDC) which allows clinics but prohibits
hospitals. The Manatee County Land Development Code (LDC) did
not define an FSER as it was a new business concept in
Meyer, a division manager, reviewed the FSP application and
correspondence. Meyer believed the FSER use would be a
hospital and would not be a permitted use. Meyer requested a
legal opinion from the Office of the County Attorney. In a
June 2016 email, Sarah Schenk, an assistant county attorney,
stated that it was "unclear what analysis was applied to
allow the change in use from retail as stated in Section 2 of
[the 2009 PSP Ordinance] to a clinic or some form of
emergency service facility without going through the public
hearing process to amend the ordinance." Meyer told
Doctors' representatives in July 2016 that the project
would need a public hearing before the Board to change the
retail use. Doctors' representatives complained to
Barnott of the cost and delay of a hearing. Barnott fired
Meyer in August 2016.
obtained additional information from Doctors about the FSER
and reviewed the LDC and Florida Statutes. He issued a
written letter of interpretation dated September 16, 2016
(the Code Interpretation). Barnott determined that the
proposed FSER would fall within the category of clinic
because, as detailed in the letter, the FSER was more like an
urgent care facility or clinic than a hospital. He relied on
sections 311 and 401.2 of the LDC in his interpretation.
Relying on section 401.2, he stated the following:
[W]henever there is any uncertainty as to the
classification of a use, the Department Director shall
determine the classification, if any, within which the use
falls, based on its characteristics and similarity to other
uses in the district. If a use has characteristics similar
to more than one classification, the use shall be construed
as the classification having the most similar
section 401.2 applies to standard districts, not planned
development districts, as discussed in our analysis below.
Because Barnott determined that an FSER was more like a
clinic, he concluded that this would allow the proposed use
at the site to be approved and reviewed by administrative
permit rather than requiring approval by the Board.
through staff, administratively approved the FSP on November
23, 2016. On December 7, 2016, Braden Woods sent a letter to
the Board about the application for the FSER and stated its
concerns regarding traffic and noise. In an email response on
December 14, 2016, from the County's Building and
Development Services Department, Braden Woods was informed of
the timeline of the development of the FSER. Braden Woods was
advised of the Code Interpretation of September 16, 2016, and
the FSP approval of November 23, 2016. The County issued a
building permit for the FSER on December 16, 2016.
Plaintiffs filed the original complaint on February 17, 2017,
and on April 13, 2017, filed the operative First Amended
Complaint (the Amended Complaint). Count one of the Amended
Complaint seeks relief pursuant to chapter 86, Florida
Statutes (2016), the declaratory judgment statute, and the
injunction provision in section 106.3.A of the LDC to declare
Barnott's FSP approval and the FSP void and ultra vires
and to enjoin the resulting violations of the LDC from the
construction or operation of the FSER. Count two seeks relief
pursuant to (1) chapter 86; (2) section 125.66(4), Florida
Statutes (2016), the notice statute; and (3) section 106.3.A
to declare Barnott's FSP approval and the FSP void and
ultra vires because the County and Barnott violated the
notice statute and to enjoin the resulting violations of the
LDC from the construction or operation of the FSER. Count
three, which is not at issue on appeal, deals with the
extension of the time period for the PSP. Count four by
Braden Woods, based on a settlement agreement, remains
pending against Mavard and Doctors.
Defendants filed motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint and
asserted, among other things, that the Plaintiffs had failed
to exhaust the administrative remedies provided for in the
LDC and that Barnott was not a proper party. After conducting
a hearing on the motions, the trial court dismissed counts
one through three against Barnott in his official capacity
based on qualified immunity and because any declaratory or
injunctive relief that the court might grant against the
County would provide the Plaintiffs with the relief they seek
against Barnott. The trial court dismissed counts one through
three against all Defendants based on the Plaintiffs'
failure to exhaust their administrative remedies and the
failure to timely seek certiorari review. The trial court
denied the motion to dismiss count four. As mentioned, the
Plaintiffs challenge on appeal the dismissal of Barnott and
the dismissal of counts one and two.
DISMISSAL WITH PREJUDICE AS TO BARNOTT
trial court erred in determining that Barnott was entitled to
qualified immunity. However, the trial court's decision
dismissing the counts against Barnott with prejudice is
supported by the trial court's additional determination
that because Barnott is an employee of Manatee County, any
declaratory or injunctive relief that the trial court might
grant against the County would provide the Plaintiffs the
relief they seek against Barnott. Thus, suing Barnott in his
official capacity is redundant to suing the County.
review of the dismissal of a complaint with prejudice is de
novo. Neapolitan Enters., LLC v. City of Naples, 185
So.3d 585, 589 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016). A motion to dismiss
challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Id.
In considering a ruling on the motion to dismiss, we accept
the allegations of the complaint as true. Id.
immunity protects government actors performing discretionary
functions from liability and suit for civil damages unless
their conduct violates clearly established federal statutory
or constitutional rights." Bd. of Regents v.
Snyder, 826 So.2d 382, 389-90 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) (citing
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). In
Harlow, the Supreme Court specifically limited its
decision to suits for civil damages and "express[ed] no
view as to the conditions in which injunctive or declaratory
relief might be available." 457 U.S. at 819 n.34.
Qualified immunity is a shield from liability for civil
damages. See Vermette v. Ludwig, 707 So.2d 742, 745
(Fla. 2d DCA 1997); Town of Southwest Ranches v.
Kalam, 980 So.2d ...