Sunday, March 26, 2006

Class Action Status Available to Address Systemic Sunshine Law Violation

In Deininger v. Palm Beach County, here's the link, the 4th DCA overtuned a trial court denial of class action status for Palm Beach County employees whose disciplinary hearings violated the Sunshine Law.

The District Court had previously determined that the process used by the County violated the Sunshine Law (posted awhile back). Apparently, the County in its (not surprising) arrogance has continued to use the same illegal procedures. Two disciplined employees sued to determine that their employment actions violated the Sunshine Law and asked for class status on behalf of all similarly situated employees. The trial court dismissed, looking at the merits of the dismissals and holding that each employee would have its own facts.

The 4th recognized that where the claim is that the process violates the Sunshine Law, and that the actions would be void ab initio without respect to the merits, the plaintiffs stated a valid class action claim.

For practitioners - compare this with the 5th's treatment of the buildingfee case a few weeks ago - they claimed that the County's entire process for assessing building fees was invalid as applied to everyone (if not facially) because of decisions made in how the rules were implemented. The court found that the as applied claims couldn't state a class action because the individual merits/calculations were the critical issue to validity. One wonders if this is a pleading problem with that case, or a conflict between the courts.

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