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Sanchez v. Miami-Dade County

Supreme Court of Florida

December 19, 2019

CHRISTOPHER SANCHEZ, Petitioner,
v.
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Respondent.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED.

          Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Direct Conflict of Decisions Third District - Case No. 3D16-959 (Miami-Dade County)

          Ronald D. Rodman and Stephanie Vega Graves of Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A., Miami, Florida; and Pamela Beckham and Robert J. Beckham, Jr., of Beckham & Beckham, P.A., Miami, Florida, for Petitioner

          Abigail Price-Williams, Miami-Dade County Attorney, and Joni A. Mosely and Erica S. Zaron, Assistant County Attorneys, Miami, Florida, for Respondent

          PER CURIAM.

         Petitioner, Christopher Sanchez, brought a "negligent security" claim against Respondent, Miami-Dade County (the County), after being shot and injured at a birthday party hosted at one of the County's public parks (the Park). He seeks review of Sanchez v. Miami-Dade County, 245 So.3d 933, 934 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018), in which the Third District Court of Appeal concluded that his claim was barred by sovereign immunity. Sanchez explained that Petitioner's claim was predicated on the County's alleged failure to "allocat[e] off-duty police officers" to the birthday party and that sovereign immunity "protects [the County's] policy and planning decisions about where to allocate its limited police resources." Id. at 944. Recognizing that sovereign immunity may bar an action even where a duty exists, Sanchez reached its holding irrespective of any duty owed to Petitioner by the County. See id. at 943 n.4 ("[D]uty is not an issue here.").

         This Court granted jurisdiction on the ground that Sanchez expressly and directly conflicts with the Fourth District Court of Appeal's decision in City of Belle Glade v. Woodson, 731 So.2d 797 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999), on the question of whether the existence of a duty renders sovereign immunity inapplicable. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const. Woodson concluded that sovereign immunity did not shield a city from a personal injury and wrongful death suit in which the plaintiffs alleged that the city "fail[ed] to provide adequate security" for a dance that took place on the premises of the city's civic center. Woodson, 731 So.2d at 797. Woodson specifically reasoned that sovereign immunity was inapplicable because the city had "the same common law duty as a private person to properly maintain and operate the property." Id. at 798.

         Having heard oral argument, we dismiss Petitioner's petition for review and decline to reach the merits of Sanchez. We do so for two reasons. First, the conflict issue here-i.e., the merging of duty and sovereign immunity-has already been resolved by this Court in opinions issued after the Fourth District's decision in Woodson. Those opinions make clear that duty and sovereign immunity are not to be conflated. Second, Petitioner argues to this Court a new theory of liability, and this Court is not a forum for adjudicating matters that were not presented below. Before more fully addressing these two reasons for dismissal, we review the background of the case and the Third District's decision below.

         Background

         Petitioner and another individual, Noel Pozos, were shot and injured at the same party hosted at the Park. The Park contains a shelter that the County rented to the party host for the party. According to the Park's rental rules and regulations, the party host-for what turned out to be the size and nature of the party-was required to obtain a broadcast permit from the County and hire off-duty police officers. The party host instead hired private security guards and did not obtain any permits. The only County employee in attendance was a park service aide whose responsibilities were largely to keep the area clean.

         Petitioner and Pozos filed separate negligent security suits against the County alleging that the County "negligently failed to allocate off-duty police officers as security to protect the partygoers." Sanchez, 245 So.3d at 934. In both cases, the County moved for summary judgment, arguing in relevant part that the claim was barred by sovereign immunity. Id.

         In Pozos's case, the trial court summarily denied the County's summary judgment motion, the County appealed, and the Third District dismissed the appeal as a jurisdictional matter after determining that the trial court's "unelaborated order" was "a nonfinal, nonappealable order." Miami-Dade County v. Pozos, 242 So.3d 1152, 1152-53 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), discretionary review proceeding stayed, No. SC18-1118 (Fla. July 19, 2018). Judge Rothenberg dissented in Pozos, arguing that the Third District had jurisdiction and that sovereign immunity clearly barred the claim because "the County's actions" involved "a discretionary planning and/or policy decision . . . regarding where and how to deploy its available manpower (sworn police officers)." Id. at 1158, 1165-66 (Rothenberg, J., dissenting).

         In Petitioner's case, the trial court granted the County's summary judgment motion, and the Third District in Sanchez affirmed. Sanchez specifically "agree[d] with and adopt[ed] the portion of Chief Judge Rothenberg's Pozos dissent concluding under the facts of this case that the county had sovereign immunity." Sanchez, 245 So.3d at 934. The Sanchez majority then separately addressed two points raised by Judge Salter in his Sanchez dissent, namely: (1) the nature of Petitioner's claim, and (2) the applicability of Woodson.

         Regarding Petitioner's claim, the Sanchez majority rejected Judge Salter's conclusion that Petitioner challenged "violations of the park employees' operational duties to keep track of the number of party-goers, verify security measures, and shut down parties if they spiral out of control." Id. at 939. After looking ...


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