Judge defers ruling in three Holmes Beach-Bert Harris cases

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12th Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin, left, holds an off-the-record discussion with attorneys for the city of Holmes Beach and attorneys for the property owners suing the city under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

One court ruling was pushed down the road.

A 12th Circuit judge put his decision on hold after attorneys sparred over a consolidated pretrial motion in three Holmes Beach cases over the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act.

Representing three property owners, Aaron Thomas, of the Najmy Thompson law firm in Bradenton, argued July 30 the city of Holmes Beach “knew what it was getting into” when it failed to offer changes in the allowable uses or settlements for his clients’ claims.

Since 2016, more than 80 property owners invoked the Bert Harris law against Holmes Beach by filing claims at city hall, and 11 lawsuits — eight represented by the Najmy firm — sprung from the claims.

Thomas asked Judge Charles Sniffin to enter judgments finding the city liable under the act that allows landowners to seek the loss of fair market value due to unfair government actions.

Sniffin told Thomas he wasn’t denying his motion, but rather allowing the parties time for discovery and to append their arguments after depositions, inspections and other discovery.

“The case law is very clear that the court commits irreversible error if it grants summary judgment when discovery is outstanding,” Sniffin said.

He deferred ruling for 90 days.

Under the act, the city was required to respond to claimants within 150 days of the filings.

In response to each claim, the city sent a letter suggesting no settlement or compromise to the then-new 2015-16 rental laws, enacted by the city after residents complained of parking, noise, garbage and other quality-of-life issues.

Thomas argued his clients were eligible to recover under Bert Harris when the city enacted a May 1, 2016, regulatory scheme to enforce a Sept. 8, 2015, two-person per bedroom ordinance.

He also disputed the city’s defenses, including a statute of limitations running from the September 2015 enactment and appraisals, saying the judge could rule on such legal questions.

Thomas said his clients lost investment expectations, including:

  • Brian Wien rented his five-bedroom rental home at 111 81st St. to at least 12 occupants until the law restricted him to 10.
  • 307 66th LLC and Robert and Michelle Carl rented their six-bedroom units at 118 50th St. and 307 66th to at least 16 guests, respectively, until the law restricted them to no more than 12 guests.

Thomas argued the city inordinately burdened his clients for three-four years.

Jay Daigneault, the city’s attorney, argued back.

He called the plaintiffs’ motion premature due to “an undeveloped record,” saying the exchange of documents, depositions and inspections is incomplete.

Daigneault also argued the owners failed to make a formal denial.

He also pointed to the city’s two-person per bedroom restriction in the comprehensive plan.

Thomas countered the comp plan isn’t a local ordinance or regulation contemplated by Bert Harris.

As far as pre-suit requirements, Thomas said the plaintiffs should be able to invoke the “futility exception” based on takings, since the city had no means to grant a variance under its rental laws.

Addressing the not-yet-completed exchange of records, Thomas said many items sought by the city are not relevant, such as names of hundreds of renters, insurance policies and detailed financial information.

Daigneault argued a host of issues surround the owners’ claims, such as how the law was applied to the properties and the plaintiffs’ claims on bedrooms.

Daigneault estimated the parties would need four-six months to complete discovery.

After hearing the arguments, the judge singled out the issue of discovery and agreed to allow time for completion, “but not four-six months.”

2 thoughts on “Judge defers ruling in three Holmes Beach-Bert Harris cases

  1. Karen

    The island is benefiting expeditiously from all the money brought into the island by the tourist dollar. This is noted in the article "Heads in beds generates $1.6 million in tourist tax in June". Without these property investors, (whom according to Janet Aubry) "the invasion of people who seek to put their greed above our way of life" there would be a dramatic shortfall in your tax collection. We as homeowners make our homes available to vacation seekers so they can spend money in beautiful Anna Maria to keep the economy bright. Without the home rental business in Anna Maria there would not be the bustle of tourist spending their money in the shops, restaurants, bars and the upkeep to the infrastructure of maintaining the city as there simply is not anywhere else for the tourist to stay while enjoying all that Anna Maria has to offer.

  2. Janet Aubry

    I hope Holmes Beach continues to hang tough on these cases. The resolution will be a harbinger of the future of what is left of this island and other communities like ours in Florida and beyond. I hope everyone appreciates the courage, expense and commitment it takes to break new legal ground to defend our community from the invasion of those who seek to put their greed above our way of life and how vital the outcome is to each one of us.

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