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Iglesias v. City of Hialeah

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

July 24, 2019

Juan Iglesias, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
City of Hialeah, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 16-7335 David C. Miller, Judge.

          Gallup Auerbach, and Dana M. Gallup (Hollywood), for appellant/cross-appellee.

          Alfredo Marquez-Sterling, Assistant City Attorney, for appellee/cross-appellant.

          Before SALTER, FERNANDEZ and LINDSEY, JJ.

          FERNANDEZ, J.

         Juan Iglesias appeals the trial court's Final Judgment denying recovery of noneconomic damages under the Florida Public Whistleblower Act ("FPWA"). The City of Hialeah ("City") cross-appeals the same Final Judgment denying the City's motion for summary judgment. Because the language in the FPWA does not bar noneconomic damages, we reverse. We affirm the denial of the City's motion for summary judgment.

         Iglesias is a member of the Hialeah Police Department. On October 21, 2015, Iglesias sent a letter to the City's Chief of Police, Sergio Velazquez, and Mayor Carlos Hernandez after receiving disciplinary notice for not meeting traffic enforcement standards. Iglesias alleged that the police department had continued enforcing ticket quotas, now banned by the Florida legislature. He sent another letter re-alleging the same on January 7, 2016, after receiving other disciplinary notices. However, the Mayor approved the recommended disciplinary actions against Iglesias. The Personnel Board of Hialeah upheld the actions but reduced them to a ten-hour suspension.

         On March 23, 2016, Iglesias sued the City, alleging that it violated the FPWA by retaliating against him when he wrote to the Mayor about the City's continuance of ticket quotas. On the morning of the trial, the trial judge ruled that Iglesias would not be permitted to seek noneconomic compensatory damages. Given that ruling, Iglesias and the City reached an agreement, and the trial court entered a Final Judgment awarding Iglesias $305.75 in lost wages, allowing Iglesias to appeal the court's ruling not allowing for noneconomic damages and for the City to appeal the court's denial of its motion for summary judgment.

         We have jurisdiction pursuant to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.030(b)(1). Statutory interpretation is reviewed de novo. Dockswell v. Bethesda Mem'l Hosp., Inc., 210 So.3d 1201, 1206 (Fla. 2017). A remedial statute like the FPWA should be construed liberally in favor of the party seeking relief. See Irven v. Dep't of Health & Rehab. Servs., 790 So.2d 403, 405 (Fla. 2001).

         The remedies section of the FPWA states:

(9) RELIEF__ In any action brought under this section, the relief must include the following:
(a) Reinstatement of the employee to the same position held before the adverse action was commenced, or to an equivalent position or ...

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