STORY UPDATE: On June 2, Governor Rick Scott vetoed the $37.4 million appropriation in 16-year citrus canker litigation. Read more about attorney reactions and the next steps.
Lee County and Broward County homeowners are nearing receipt of their well-deserved compensation following 16 years of litigation involving the destruction and removal of their citrus trees. Florida’s legislature just approved a budget for 2017-2018, which includes the compensation of $37.4 million for affected homeowners in these two counties. (Read more details in the press release below.)
However, the budget can still be vetoed by Governor Rick Scott. We’re encouraging citizens of both counties to email the governor, urging him to approve these budget items so affected homeowners can finally be compensated after 16 years. You can help by sending the email below to Governor Scott (and ask your friends, family, committees, co-workers, and followers):
Email to: [email protected]
Subject Line: I support the Citrus Canker Eradication Final Judgment Appropriations
Dear Governor Scott, thank you for your support and leadership on many issues affecting the lives of Floridians. I am writing to you today to express my full support for the Legislature’s appropriation of $37.4 million to pay the outstanding final judgments awarding compensation to over 70,000 families in Broward and Lee Counties whose healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees were taken and destroyed by the Florida Department of Agriculture under the failed citrus canker eradication program. After years of fighting to enforce our constitutional private property rights and being awarded full compensation, the Department of Agriculture has refused to pay. Finally, this year, the Legislature included appropriations totaling $37.4 million in the state budget to pay these outstanding judgments. I strongly encourage you to approve this funding that we are entitled to under the Florida Constitution.
[Your Name and Address]
You can also call the Governor’s office directly at (850) 488-7146
We appreciate your help. The press release with further detail is below:
Florida Budget Includes Funds to Pay Broward and Lee County Homeowners in 16-Year Citrus Canker Litigation
Funds to Pay Other Counties’ Homeowners Will Follow
Miami, Florida – In 2000, the Florida Department of Agriculture destroyed over 130,000 healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees in Broward County – including three trees at the home of Toby and Bob Bogorff in Davie – as part of its failed effort to eradicate citrus canker. The Bogorffs, joined by several other Broward homeowners, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 58,000 families against the Department of Agriculture and its Commissioner to recover full compensation under the Florida constitution for the destruction of their private property. In 2008, a Broward County jury awarded $11.5 million in compensation to the Broward homeowners. The Department’s appeals dragged on until 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined the Department’s request to review the judgment.
In 2003, a similar legal battle took shape in Lee County, where the Department destroyed nearly 34,000 healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees owned by Lee County families. Lois and Chuck Stroh, Cape Coral homeowners, joined by several others, sued the Department of Agriculture and its Commissioner seeking full compensation on behalf of approximately 12,000 Lee County families for the Department’s destruction of their private property. In 2014, a Lee County jury awarded $13.6 million in compensation to the Lee homeowners. The Department’s appeal was rejected in early 2016.
Despite losing the cases in Broward and Lee courts, as well as similar cases in Orange and Palm Beach courts where compensation totaling more than $58 million was awarded to those counties’ homeowners, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam refused to pay the judgments. As a result, the amounts due continued to increase with accrued interest. As of March 31, 2017, the amounts due under judgments awarded to homeowners in Broward, Lee, Orange, and Palm Beach Counties exceeded $100 million.
Earlier this year, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Representative Jose Felix Diaz decided enough was enough and made payment of these judgments a priority. On Monday evening, the Florida Legislature approved the state’s 2017-18 budget, including $37.4 million to pay the amounts due under the judgments awarded to the Broward and Lee County homeowners. Although Representative Diaz also proposed to pay judgments awarded to Orange and Palm Beach County homeowners, the Legislature did not include funds to pay those judgments in this year’s budget.
“When we began this legal journey in 2000, I never imagined it would take nearly 17 years to enforce basic constitutional rights guaranteed to everyone under the Florida constitution,” said Bobby Gilbert, lead counsel for the homeowners. “But the Department of Agriculture turned this into what may be the longest-running litigation in Florida history.”
“Today, we express our appreciation to the Florida Legislature for appropriating funds to pay the constitutional compensation awarded to approximately 70,000 families in Broward and Lee Counties,” Gilbert continued. “We extend special thanks to Speaker Corcoran and Representative Diaz for their leadership, as well as Senate President Negron and Senator Flores for their support. We anticipate distributing the funds to eligible homeowners in Broward and Lee Counties later this year. We will now focus our efforts on collecting the full amounts due to homeowners in Orange and Palm Beach Counties under the judgments awarded to them. We are extremely confident we will collect the full amounts due with the help of the courts and the Legislature.”
Gilbert added: “We also look forward to completing the class action lawsuit we brought on behalf of Miami-Dade County homeowners whose 247,972 healthy, uninfected citrus trees were destroyed by the Department. We again urge Commissioner Putnam to resolve the claims of the Miami-Dade homeowners without further delay. Unless a settlement is reached by June 6, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Thomas Rebull will issue a liability ruling, setting the stage for a jury trial later this year to determine the amount of compensation due to the Miami-Dade County homeowners.”
In addition to Gilbert, the homeowners are represented by a team of prominent South Florida lawyers, including Bruce S. Rogow, William S. Williams, Joseph H. Serota, Neal A. Roth, and J. Alex Villalobos.