Florida Record

Saturday, April 4, 2020

High court ends Coral Gables' legal fight to ban Styrofoam food containers

State Court

By Michael Carroll | Feb 27, 2020

Coral gables city attorney
City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos said Coral Gables will urge the legislature to repeal preemption statutes.

The Florida Supreme Court has turned down an appeal by the city of Coral Gables to review a lower court ruling that invalidated the city’s ban on Styrofoam food packaging.

The high court’s decision on Feb. 12 left in place a 3rd District Court of Appeal decision affirming three state statutes that preempt local governments from regulating polystyrene products. The litigation stems from a 2016 Coral Gables ordinance banning the use or sale of the polystyrene materials by food service firms.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the issue amounts to a win for the Florida Retail Federation, which challenged the legality of the Coral Gables law. The federation declined comment on the ruling.

Coral Gables City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos said the city lacks any further legal options in the wake of the high court’s decision.

“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not accept jurisdiction over this significant case, that touches not only on important environmental initiatives but also on our city commission’s ability to address concerns that are important to Coral Gables residents,” Soler Ramos told the Florida Record in an email. 

But she added that merchants and consumers in the city have nevertheless been changing their behaviors regarding food containers since the ordinance was enacted.

“It is our sincere hope that the use of harmful products such as polystyrene and single-use plastic bags does not resume,” Soler Ramos said.

Coral Gables argued in its Oct. 28, 2019, court brief that three statutes limiting local government attempts to regulate nonrecyclable products were unconstitutionally vague. In addition, they interfere with cities’ “home rule” rights and singled out Coral Gables specifically because the state preempted any municipality from enacting Styrofoam bans after Jan. 1, 2016.

The timing shields seven other municipalities’ ordinances banning such packaging materials from preemption, Coral Gables argued.

Despite the end of the legal case, Soler Ramos said the city will continue to press its concerns to the state legislature.

“Repealing all three preemption statutes continues to be an important part of the city’s legislative agenda, and we will further concentrate our efforts in the Florida legislature in order to accomplish this goal,” she said. “In addition, the city will continue to look for new and innovative ways to incentivize good environmental stewardship from all businesses located within the city.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, has shown that he will not support all of the legislature’s recent efforts to curb the regulatory powers of local governments. Last year, DeSantis vetoed a bill that would have prevented cities from banning plastic straws.

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