State Goes To Appeals Court In Expressway Fight

TALLAHASSEE --- The Florida Department of Transportation has asked an appeals court to step in and order the dismissal of a constitutional challenge to a new law that would make major changes in the operation of expressways in Miami-Dade County.

Attorneys for the department late Monday filed a petition at the 1st District Court of Appeal, after a Leon County circuit judge ruled in August that the state law was unconstitutional because it violated Miami-Dade County’s home-rule powers. Judge John Cooper last week rejected a request by the state House for a rehearing in the case.

The law, which passed this spring after heavy debate among Miami-Dade County legislators, calls for abolishing the longstanding Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority and replacing it with a new entity called the Greater Miami Expressway Agency. The expressway authority quickly filed a multi-count lawsuit challenging the measure.

In the petition Monday, the Department of Transportation asked the appeals court to issue what is known as a “writ of prohibition” that would order dismissal of the lawsuit. The underlying case continues in circuit court because Cooper ruled on only one part of the lawsuit, which also deals with issues such as impairment of contracts.

The Department of Transportation’s attorneys contend that the case should be dismissed because the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority didn’t have legal standing to file the constitutional challenge and doesn’t have power to continue the case because the authority was dissolved under the law. Also, the petition argues the Department of Transportation is not a proper defendant because it isn’t responsible for enforcing the law.

“Under well-settled precedent, the trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this litigation because MDX (the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority) lacks both standing and legal capacity to sue, and because there is no proper defendant before the trial court,” the petition said. “These deficiencies independently --- and especially in combination with one another --- leave the trial court without a justiciable controversy between parties with adverse legal interests. The department asks this court to grant the petition and issue a writ of prohibition directing the trial court to vacate its orders and dismiss the proceeding below.”

Cooper, in his Aug. 29 ruling about the constitutionality of the law, rejected the arguments that the department raised in the appeals court. More broadly, he ruled that the law is what is known as a “local law” that applied only to Miami-Dade County and, as a result, violated its constitutional home-rule powers.

“The dissolution of MDX, the creation of GMX (the Greater Miami Expressway Agency), the transfer of assets and rights from MDX to GMX, and the adoption of the Greater Miami Expressway Agency Act are directly targeted at Miami-Dade County and apply exclusively to Miami-Dade County,” Cooper wrote.

The Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority, created in 1994, has long spurred arguments in the Legislature, with lawmakers also passing measures aimed at the authority in 2017 and 2018, according to the lawsuit. Among the issues surrounding the authority have been toll rates.

*News Service Florida

Photo by: Getty Images

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