Florida Record

Thursday, October 17, 2019

First District Court of Appeals sends land-use case back to lower court

By Richard Jones | Apr 17, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's First District Court of Appeal recently affirmed parts of a lower court decision while reversing the summary judgment from a circuit court judge in a case disputing the future use of land.

The case involved Tallahassee-area homebuilders Evergreen Communities Inc. and Palafox LLC, as well as the Palafox Preserve Homeowners' Association and homeowners Robert and Wynona Braswell. Evergreen Communities developed and maintained Palafox Preserve and the development's homeowners' association.

In a unanimous opinion, the court found that a summary judgment issued by Judge George Reynolds of the Circuit Court of Leon County should only be issued when the facts of the case are clear and not in dispute. In making the decision, the court cited the holdings in Moore v. Morris, which said “a summary judgment should not be granted unless the facts are so crystallized that nothing remains but questions of law.” 

The parties are disputing whether the agreement between the homebuilders and the homeowners places certain restrictions on the future use of the land for commercial applications. The court determined that the restriction and covenants in the future use agreement between the parties were vague and ambiguous. As a result, the issues of the case were not of a clear or subject to summary judgment.

“However, we find this evidence created a disputed issue of material fact as to the developer’s intent, which is paramount in interpreting a land use restriction," wrote the court in the opinion. "Because disputed issues of material fact  remain,  we reverse the final summary judgment and remand for further proceedings."

The court also cited the holding from Orlando Lake Forest Joint Venture v. Lake Forest Master Cmty., 105 So. 3d 646, 648

“A statement in a restrictive covenant explaining that certain restrictions are intended to ‘facilitate’ a particular  development and use' is  insufficient  to  restrict  the  future  use  of  the property  to  that  particular  development  and  use," the court wrote.

Judges Scott Makar, Harvey Jay and M. Kemmerly Thomas concurred in the opinion and remanded the case back to the Circuit Court of Leon County for further adjudication.

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Florida First District Court of Appeal