Flooding on South Beach. Wikimedia Commons

The City of Miami Beach can move ahead with its pursuit of approximately $1 million in unpaid utility fees from the School Board of Miami-Dade County following an appellate court’s ruling in its favor.

A panel of appellate judges has granted the city of Miami Beach’s motion to dismiss an appeal filed by the School Board of Miami-Dade County in a legal battle over purportedly outstanding utility bills.

The Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the city’s motion to dismiss the school district’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Its opinion upheld an order by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Miller denying the school board’s request to toss the suit.

Miami Beach contended that the language of Miller’s order did not allow the school district to appeal the ruling based on claims of sovereign immunity.

A motion to dismiss the appeal filed by Miami Beach’s legal counsel, Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman partner Michael Burke, argued that “a trial court’s order denying a motion based in whole or in part on a claim of sovereign immunity is not appealable,” unless the order had explicitly found that the party was not entitled to sovereign immunity.

The city filed suit against the Miami-Dade School Board in January 2017 for refusing to pay approximately $1 million in utility fees for Miami Beach’s stormwater management program. An amended complaint in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in April 2018 asserted Florida’s “legislature expressly provided municipalities with the power and authority to create and regulate drains and sewers and to collect fees from persons who use those drains and sewers for their proportional share.”

“The school board receives a benefit therefrom by draining its land into the city’s main stormwater drain and system,” the complaint said, noting the school district notified Miami Beach it would not be paying all of the charges pertaining to the stormwater system in May 2012. “In using the city’s stormwater utility system, the school board burdens the system and causes the city to incur damages or additional expense in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of its stormwater utility system. As such, the school board’s actions … constitutes a continuing trespass.”

Co-counsel for Miami Beach, Deputy City Attorney Steven Rothstein, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Read Miami Beach’s lawsuit against the Miami-Dade School Board: 

The school board’s motion to dismiss claimed sovereign immunity.

“The school board’s position has been that since the city does not charge based on actual use, it is a service availability fee, and therefore a fee that is exempt from paying,” the motion said. “Absent any stature or agreement waiving sovereign immunity, the school board is exempt from paying the waste impact fees.”

Walter Harvey, the school board’s attorney, declined to comment on the Third DCA’s ruling.

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