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Miami-Dade County v. Harris

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

June 26, 2019

Miami-Dade County, Petitioner,
v.
Lamar Harris, Respondent.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          A Case of Original Jurisdiction - Prohibition. Lower Tribunal No. 16-26269

          Abigail Price-Williams, Miami-Dade County Attorney and Leona N. McFarlane, Assistant County Attorney, for petitioner.

          Kuehne Davis Law, P.A., and Benedict P. Kuehne, and Michael T. Davis, for respondent.

          Before EMAS, C.J., and LINDSEY, and GORDO, JJ. [1]

          LINDSEY, J.

         Miami-Dade County petitions this Court for a writ of prohibition, alleging the circuit court is without jurisdiction to preside over the underlying whistleblower action because Respondent Lamar Harris failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Harris has filed a cross-petition for writ of certiorari, alleging the trial court erroneously denied his motion for reinstatement. Because we conclude that Harris did not exhaust his administrative remedies, we grant the County's petition for writ of prohibition, and we dismiss Harris's cross-petition for certiorari as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In April 2014, the County's Chief Supervisor of Rail Transportation issued a memorandum to all Metrorail train operators directing them to announce the train line and final destination at each station. In May 2014, a disciplinary action was filed against Harris, who had been employed as a train operator for over nine years, for failing to make the required announcements. Harris told his supervisor the announcements were unsafe, and he a prepared a "Safety Concerns" letter explaining that a train operator could not safely make the required announcements while also monitoring passengers and listening for radio communications.

         In August 2014, Harris was suspended for five days for failure to make the announcements.[2] The following month, Harris submitted his Safety Concerns letter to the Florida Department of Transportation ("FDOT"). FDOT conducted an investigation and concluded that Harris's safety concerns "do not represent an immediate, current safety hazard to MDT passengers or employees."

         In February 2015, independent and unrelated to Harris's failure to make the announcements, Harris was arrested and charged with several crimes. As a result, Harris was automatically suspended[3] on March 31, 2015, and ultimately dismissed from County service on July 17, 2015. Harris appealed his dismissal on July 22, 2015, pursuant to section 2-47 of the Miami-Dade County Code of Ordinances ("County Code"), which governs appeals of adverse personnel actions. Although Harris claims he asked his representative to raise his whistleblower complaint at the administrative hearing, he admits that the whistleblower issue was never considered. On November 5, 2015, the hearing examiner issued his recommendation, concluding that there was just cause to dismiss Harris. On November 24, 2015, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez sustained the decision and confirmed Harris's dismissal. Harris did not appeal the Mayor's decision.

         On January 25, 2016, Harris filed a whistleblower complaint with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust (the "Ethics Commission"). In his complaint, Harris alleged his suspension and dismissal were in retaliation for his Safety Concerns letter. On June 30, 2016, the Ethics Commission dismissed Harris's complaint, finding no probable cause to sustain his whistleblower allegations.

         On October 11, 2016, Harris filed a two-count complaint below, alleging (I) that the County violated Florida's "Whistle-blower's Act" when it retaliated against him by suspending him and dismissing him and (II) that the County violated section 2-42(22)[4] of the County Code when it failed to reinstate him after he entered a pre-trial intervention program. On March 31, 2017, Harris filed a motion for temporary reinstatement pursuant to the Whistle-blower's Act's temporary reinstatement provision. See § 112.3187(9)(f), Fla. Stat. (2018). The trial court denied Harris's motion, finding the temporary reinstatement provision did not apply because the County was a municipality. See id. ("This paragraph does not apply to an employee of a municipality.").

         The County filed a motion for summary judgment on July 5, 2017, arguing that the trial court does not have jurisdiction over Harris's whistleblower claim (Count I) because Harris failed to exhaust administrative remedies and his claim was untimely as a matter of law. The County also argued that section 2-42(22) of the County Code does not provide a cause of action for reinstatement (Count II). The trial court denied the County's motion, and the County now seeks a writ of prohibition to prevent the trial court from ...


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