Sunday, May 17, 2015
Refusal to Maintain Road Could Create Cause of Action for Taking - Jordan et. al. v. St. John’s County, 36 Fla. L. Weekly D1095 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011).
The plaintiffs/appellants own lots that are accessible only by an “Old A1A,” which is a County road that runs along the beach. Old A1A was originally a state road; the state deeded the road to the County when it relocated US 1A further west. Given its location, the road was frequently damaged or washed out by storms and erosions. The County’s answer to the problem was to limit maintenance of the road and to adopt an ordinance imposing a temporary moratorium on residential building permits for lands served by the road. A group of landowners filed suit: (1) asking for a declaration that the County had the obligation to maintain the road, (2) requesting an injunction to require the County to maintain the road, (3) inverse condemnation for loss of access, and (4) for declaratory relief and inverse condemnation for the moratorium. The circuit court entered summary judgment for the County on all counts and the landowners appealed.
The District Court found that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to the County on the claims for declaratory relief and inverse condemnation that were based on the failure to maintain the road. The District Court agreed with the First District’s opinion in Ecological Development Inc. v. Walton County, 548 So.2d 1069 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990), that a local government cannot accept ownership of a road and then refuse to repair or maintain it, but cannot be ordered to repair or maintain it in a specific manner. The District Court held that “the County must provide a reasonable level of maintenance that affords meaningful access, unless or until the County formally abandons the road.” The District Court went on to hold that “government inaction – in the face of an affirmative duty to act – can support a claim for inverse condemnation.” These issues were then remanded to the circuit court to determine: (1) whether the County had, de facto, abandoned the road, (2) whether the County’s maintenance of the road was reasonable, and (3) to determine damages if the County had failed to provide reasonable maintenance. The holding of this case should have been predictable and in my opinion it is lamentable that the case was necessary