TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Keith Perry has proposed Florida Senate
Bill 996, which would allow developers to countersue for attorney's
fees and legal costs if they would prevail in the legal proceedings,
according to staugustine.com.
In SB 996, Perry, a Republican from Gainesville, wrote
that the bill was proposed in order to create more balance in
consequences “when seeking review of, or defending against,
challenges in administrative proceedings by providing in certain
situations an award of attorney's fees and costs against the party
that does not prevail.”
However, 1000 Friends of Florida — an
organization founded “to
help build better communities and save special places,” according
to its website
— does not agree that the
proposed bill would be good for the public.
"What the bill
does strictly is it changes the standard for when a party can recover
attorney's fees against another party in litigation," Thomas
Hawkins, the policy and planning director at 1000 Friends of Florida,
told the Florida Record.
Hawkins said the current standard
is that if the party who filed the lawsuit has no factual basis, the
case gets frivolous, and the opposing party could recover attorney's
"And it changes it to something called the
substantially justified standard where the court would say, 'Was the
party who filed the suit substantially justified in filing a suit?'"
Hawkins said. "And if the answer's no, then they would owe
attorney's fees. ... The opportunity to get this different standard
of review would only be available if the party seeking attorney's
fees was a permit applicant and a state-issued permit, it gets
challenged in an administrative hearing."
Hawkins said the
state has to get involved in a certain set of land-development
"They are some water permits and some
environmental permits," Hawkins said. "But the really big
one, from our perspective, is that every time a local government
amends its comprehensive plan, you have to have some approval from
Tallahassee. The local government actually sends its comprehensive
plan to Tallahassee. So the effect of this bill would be any time
somebody applies to amend the comprehensive plan to allow
development, so when they want to build ..., goes against the
existing plans of the community, if anybody challenges their change
to the plan, well, they can countersue for attorney's fees and get
this new standard, this substantially justified standard."
said 1000 Friends of Florida thinks the proposed bill will not allow
citizens concerned about the kinds of developments appearing in their
communities to speak out against those developments.
to be clear, this isn't just for any project," Hawkins said.
"It's not like you could oppose your neighbor building a house.
This is when somebody wants to rewrite the plans of the community. If
a citizen thinks that rewrite's a bad idea, before they file a suit,
they better know they might have to pay up to $50,000, the
developers' attorney's fee."
would give $50,000 at most to the party awarded those attorney's fees
on the countersuit.
Hawkins said 1000 Friends of Florida wants to see development that
helps preserve the environment and helps boost the economy.
"We think that the best way for Florida to grow while still
preserving its valuable environmental attributes is to reinvest in
our existing cities," he said. "So existing cities have a
lot of empty space, a lot of suburban development that's comprised
typically of parking lots. And we want to see development that takes
advantage of the opportunities to reinvest in our existing urban