Update on the GRU takeover

Judge says: ‘City lacks standing to challenge this law in court’  

by Wes Wheeler

Republican legislators Keith Perry and Chuck Clemons orchestrated a local bill, HB 1645, in the 2023 legislative session that stripped control of Gainesville’s public utility, transferring GRU governance to the Florida Governor though a gubernatorial appointed “Authority.”

Multiple plaintiffs, including local concerned citizens organized as Gainesville Residents United, Inc., and The City of Gainesville are seeking separate suits, alleging multiple constitutional, statutory, and procedural illegalities and defects. 

The City’s request for Summary Judgment against the Florida Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State, was heard before a State Judge on Sept. 22. The Judge ruled in favor of the defendants on September 29.

The judge ruled that the Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State are not proper defendants because they do not enforce the challenged law. Her ruling states that the Authority, a unit of the City, is the enforcing agency and thus the proper defendant. Apparently, the City as plaintiff would have to sue itself as defendant. 

The judge also held that the City, as plaintiff, has not yet suffered actual legal harm, that the defendants cannot redress the alleged violations of law, and that the “Public Official Standing Doctrine” prohibits the City from challenging State legislative decisions; therefore, the City lacks standing to challenge this law in court. 

Finally, the judge ruled that the defendants are immune to suit under the theory of sovereign immunity.

The City Commission will decide whether to appeal the verdict.

There are two other lawsuits against HB-1645 in Federal court that are moving a little slower. The City’s state lawsuit and judge’s ruling, above, do not affect these lawsuits.

The first of these lawsuits is the Gainesville Residents United, Inc. action, and the other was recently filed by former judge Nath Doughtie. (These cases are likely to be combined by the judge). The parties are in the process of swapping motions, such as the defendants’ pro forma motions to dismiss the case and to question plaintiff’s right to sue. Both sides have submitted a suggested trial schedule to the federal judge, which may be modified based on what happened in the City’s state case.

And, given the Governor’s recent appointees to the Authority Board do not follow the requirements set forth in HB 1645, it is possible that additional legal challenges may be filed.

To stay updated and get involved, check out grunited.org.

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