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Alachua County v. Darnell

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

September 20, 2019

Alachua County, a charter county and political subdivision of the State of Florida, Appellant,
Sadie Darnell, in her official capacity as Sheriff of Alachua County, Florida, Appellee.

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

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Alachua County. Monica J. Brasington, Judge.

          Robert C. Swain, Senior Assistant County Attorney, Gainesville, for Appellant.

          Laura Youmans, Legislative Counsel, Florida Association of Counties, Inc., Tallahassee; Angela J. Wallace, Alicia Lobeiras, and Annika E. Ashton, Broward County Attorney's Office, Fort Lauderdale, for Amicus Curiae Florida Association of Counties, Inc., in support of Appellant.

          Cynthia M. Weygant of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville, for Appellee.

          Thomas W. Poulton of DeBevoise & Poulton, P.A., Winter Park, for Amicus Curiae Florida Sheriffs Association in support of Appellee.

          Roberts, J.

         Alachua County (the County) filed this three-issue appeal challenging three orders entered by the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in and for Alachua County. We affirm the two orders challenged in Issues II and III without comment. In Issue I, the County argues the circuit court erred in denying its first amended complaint for a declaratory judgment regarding the Alachua County Sheriff's (the Sheriff's) independent authority to transfer appropriated funds without approval from the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (the Board). We find the circuit court appropriately construed the relevant statutory provisions to uphold the Sheriff's independent authority in this case. We affirm the final order denying declaratory relief.

         This case involves the interplay between the Sheriff's authority in Chapter 30, Florida Statutes, and the County's authority to implement a county budget in Chapter 129, Florida Statutes. The Sheriff is an elected, independent constitutional officer. Art. VIII, § 1(d), Fla. Const.; § 30.53, Fla. Stat. (2018). Section 30.49, Florida Statutes (2018), directs the Sheriff to annually prepare and submit a proposed budget to the Board. Her proposed budget is to cover expenses involving the powers, duties, and operations of the office for the next fiscal year. Section 30.49(2)(a) directs that the Sheriff's proposed budget must categorize expenditures at the appropriate "fund level" in accordance with three "functional categories" (functions): (1) general law enforcement, (2) corrections and detention alternative facilities, and (3) court services, excluding service of process. § 30.49(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2018). Within each function, the Sheriff's proposed budget must further itemize expenditures "in accordance with the uniform accounting system prescribed by the Department of Financial Services." § 30.49(2)(c), Fla. Stat. (2018). The six categories listed under subsection (2)(c) correspond to what are referred to as "object codes" (objects) in the Department of Financial Services' Uniform Accounting System Manual (UASM). The UASM provides for further itemization within the objects, referred to as "sub-object codes" (sub-objects). See § 30.49(3), Fla. Stat. (2018).

         As the taxing authority, the County is charged with funding the Sheriff's office. §§ 125.01(1)(r) & 129.01(1), Fla. Stat. (2018). Chapter 129, Florida Statutes (2018), relates to the County's annual budget. After the Sheriff submits her proposed budget under section 129.03, Florida Statutes (2018), the Board initiates the process of adopting a final county budget, which is subject to the notice and hearing requirements of section 200.065, Florida Statutes. § 129.03, Fla. Stat. (2018). In the hearings, the Board "may amend, modify, increase, or reduce any or all items of expenditure in the proposed budget, as certified by the sheriff pursuant to paragraphs (2)(a)-(c), and shall approve such budget, as amended, modified, increased, or reduced." § 30.49(4), Fla. Stat. (2018).

         This case presents the issue of whether, after her budget has been approved and funds appropriated to her, the Sheriff has unilateral authority to transfer funds between objects without approval from the Board. We agree with the circuit court that under the relevant statutes of chapters 30 and 129, the Sheriff has such authority.

         Where, as here, the facts are not in dispute, our review of the circuit court's final order denying declaratory relief is de novo. Gator Coin II, Inc. v. Fla. Dep't of Bus. & Prof'l Reg., Div. of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco, 254 So.3d 1113, 1115 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018). We also review questions of statutory construction de novo. Id. On appeal, both sides present compelling policy arguments with little citation to case law or statutory authority, which are scant. We are ultimately persuaded by the Sheriff's position as we agree with the circuit court that construing chapters 30 and 129 in harmony leads to the conclusion that the Sheriff is not required to seek Board approval before transferring funds between objects. We are specifically persuaded by the following three arguments.

         First, section 30.53, Florida Statutes (2018), explicitly preserves the Sheriff's independence as a constitutional officer "concerning the purchase of supplies and equipment, selection of personnel, and the hiring, firing, and setting of salaries of such personnel[.]" We interpret this provision as a broad preservation of all powers necessary for the Sheriff to carry out the duties and responsibilities of her office, which necessarily must include authority over her budget and office's expenditures.

         Second, there is no statutory requirement that the Sheriff seek Board approval prior to transferring funds between objects. The only prohibition upon such transfers is found in ...

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