On July 9, 2009, several Florida cities and counties filed suit in the circuit court in Leon County seeking a declaratory judgment invalidating chapter 2009-96, Laws of Florida (formerly Senate Bill 360), "[a]n act relating to growth management," for violating the single subject and unfunded mandate provisions of the Florida Constitution.
Defendants Atwater and Cretul appeal the summary judgment, and the local governments cross appeal. Appellants assert the trial court erred by not dismissing them from the suit as improper parties. They also contend the record does not support the court's finding of a statewide fiscal impact sufficient to constitute an unfunded mandate, but that even if the court's finding is correct, it should not have invalidated the law in its entirety. Appellees/Cross-Appellants argue the trial court incorrectly deemed their single-subject challenge moot. We conclude the lower court should have dismissed Appellants from the lawsuit, and that this issue is dispositive.
The proper defendant in a lawsuit challenging a statute's constitutionality is the state official designated to enforce the statute. See ACLU v. The Florida Bar, 999 F.2d 1486, 1490-91 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54, 64, 106 S.Ct. 1697, 90 L.Ed.2d 48 (1986); Harris v. Bush, 106 F.Supp.2d 1272, 1276 (N.D.Fla.2000); Walker v. President of the Senate, 658 So.2d 1200, 1200 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995)). Individual legislators are not proper parties to such a suit. See Walker (affirming order dismissing Senate President and House Speaker from declaratory action challenging certain operations of the Department of Corrections). Neither is the Governor. See, e.g., Women's Emergency Network v. Bush, 323 F.3d 937, 949-50 (11th Cir.2003) (Governor's general executive powers and authority to sign legislative bills into law do not subject that official to court's jurisdiction in suit challenging constitutionality of state statute).
But the declaratory action at issue here does not involve a broad constitutional duty of the State implicating specific responsibilities of the defendants. Nor does the lawsuit involve any issue in which the defendants have an actual, cognizable interest. Rather, the lawsuit simply challenges the constitutionality of a piece of legislation governing growth management. As such, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Governor clearly are not proper parties to the action. The fourth defendant, the Secretary of State, also is not a proper party to the lawsuit for that official does not enforce Florida's growth management laws. Rather, the Secretary of Community Affairs appears to be the responsible official, as the Department of Community Affairs is the state land planning agency. See § 163.3164(20), Fla. Stat. See also §§ 163.3184(6), 380.032, Fla. Stat. (state land planning agency authorized to review all local proposed comprehensive plan amendments and developments of regional impact for compliance with statutory requirements).
In sum, Appellants are correct that the trial court should have granted the motion to dismiss all the defendants from the declaratory action because they are not proper parties. Appellees/Cross-Appellants argue that because neither the Governor nor the Secretary of State filed a notice of appeal, we must nonetheless uphold the summary judgment. They assert we can neither reverse the judgment entirely nor consider the substantive issues Appellants raise. Appellants counter that because none of the defendants was a proper party to the declaratory action, the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the entire matter, and the failure of the Governor and Secretary of State to appeal the summary judgment cannot give the court jurisdiction it otherwise did not have. We agree with Appellants.
Fundamentally, the trial court's decision not to dismiss the Senate President, Speaker of the House, Governor and Secretary of State from the declaratory action was a determination by the court that it had subject matter jurisdiction to decide whether chapter 2009-96 is constitutional. "Even though the legislature has expressed its intent that the declaratory judgment act [chapter 86, Florida Statutes]
VAN NORTWICK and THOMAS, JJ., Concur.
Art. III, § 6, Fla. Const.
Art. VII, § 18(a), Fla. Const.