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Tropical Trailer Leasing, LLC v. Miami-Dade Expressway Authority

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

July 24, 2019

Tropical Trailer Leasing, LLC, et al., Appellants,
v.
Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, etc., et al., Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeals from non-final orders from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 14-26236, John W. Thornton, Jr., Judge.

          Akerman, LLP and Diane G. DeWolf (Tallahassee), Gerald B. Cope, Jr., A. Rodger Traynor, Jr. and Lawrence D. Silverman, for appellants.

          Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman, PA, Christopher J. Stearns and Jonathan H. Railey (Ft. Lauderdale), for appellees.

          Before SALTER, FERNANDEZ and LINDSEY [1] , JJ.

          FERNANDEZ, J.

         Tropical Trailer Leasing, LLC ("Tropical") appeals: 1) the trial court's October 31, 2017 non-final order denying Tropical's motion for summary judgment as to Count I (injunctive relief) and Count III (declaratory relief), including the denial of Tropical's request for a permanent prospective injunction to prevent Miami-Dade Expressway Authority ("MDX") from charging its trailers tolls, and 2) the trial court's December 12, 2017 non-final order granting MDX's motion for summary judgment regarding Counts I and III.[2] Upon review of the record and the relevant statutes, we find that MDX is exercising its proper authority to charge tolls to all trailers using its roadways. Because Tropical has failed to provide evidence of a clear legal right to the relief sought, has not established irreparable harm, and has an adequate remedy through contract, the trial court's denial of a permanent injunction and granting of summary judgment in favor of MDX was proper in this case. Therefore, we affirm the orders on appeal.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Tropical Trailer and its eight Tropical affiliates are engaged in the trailer leasing business. Each of the affiliates own a fleet of semi-trailers, and Tropical Trailer provides management services. Neither Tropical Trailer nor its affiliates own any "truck cabs," "truck tractors," or "tractors." Tropical Trailer and its affiliates (collectively, "Tropical") hire their trailers out to contractors who: 1) in turn, may hire a sub-contractor who owns a tractor to tow the trailer; 2) may own a tractor and use its own drivers to tow the trailer; or 3) may own a tractor and hire an independent driver to drive its tractor. These contractors and/or their sub-contractors are the registered owners of the tractors that tow Tropical's trailers.

         Tropical contends that MDX is violating section 316.1001, Florida Statutes (2012), by charging Tropical for tolls through the Toll-by-Plate method rather than charging the registered owner of the tractor or the driver of the tractor. Tropical asserts that historically, before the Toll-by-Plate method, the driver of the tractor would pay the full toll directly with cash or through a SunPass transponder.

         With the Toll-by-Plate method, MDX first attempts to charge a SunPass transponder mounted inside the tractor, if there is one available. If that fails, it will attempt to bill the owner of the front-facing license plate located on the tractor, if the toll lane is equipped with a front facing camera (at this time, not all toll lanes have a front-facing camera installed) and if the image captured by the front-facing camera is clear enough to read. If this fails, it will then attempt to bill the owner of the rear-facing license plate located on the trailer. This last option, billing the owner of the trailer, is at issue on appeal.

          Tropical initiated a class action suit against MDX and MDX's Executive Director, Javier Rodriguez, in his official capacity. Relevant to the instant appeal, in the Second Amended Complaint, Tropical sought a permanent prospective injunction to prevent MDX from charging its trailers (Count I). Tropical never pled or otherwise argued that the statutes governing MDX's imposition of tolls are unconstitutional or illegal. Tropical also requested declaratory relief that would prevent MDX from charging Tropical tolls (Count III). Counts I and III are the only counts relevant to this appeal, which are both prospective in nature. Neither count concerns refunds, either prior to 2012 or after. In the October 31, 2017 order on appeal, the trial court merely denied Tropical's motion for summary judgment without explanation. In the December 26, 2017 order on appeal, the trial court denied injunctive relief and granted summary judgment as to Counts I and III, in accordance with MDX's motion, and provided its reasoning as follows:

The Plaintiff seeks too much from this Court. Only the Legislature can make new law. The tolls imposed and right to do so, by whatever method MDX chooses, are granted to it by the Legislature. The definition of a motor vehicle and the imposition of fines are Legislative prerogatives. It is not for the Court to require MDX to operate its business in a manner which has the Plaintiff[']s approval. Nor is it for the Court to require MDX to install cameras in different positions or locations, or facing forward or backward. Such requirements are for the Legislature and MDX. Plaintiffs' relief is through their contractual relations with their customers or drivers, or with the legislature, but not this Court. Plaintiffs have not and do not argue that the applicable statutes are unconstitutional. Further, Plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies. Plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence of a clear legal right to the relief sought. Plaintiff cannot establish irreparable harm as there is an adequate remedy at law.

(Emphasis added). This appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The standard of review for an order granting summary judgment is de novo. Shaw v. Tampa Elec. Co., 949 So.2d 1066, 1069 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007). We review a trial court's decision regarding failure to exhaust administrative remedies for an abuse of discretion. S. Fla. Blood Bank, Inc. v. Futch, 764 So.2d 724, 725-26 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). In order to establish a purported entitlement to a permanent injunction, the party requesting the injunction must "establish a clear legal right, an inadequate remedy at law[, ] and that irreparable ...


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