Appellees/Plaintiffs Zlinkoff, et al., a class consisting of approximately 45,000 owners of vacant, platted, single family lots located within the City of Port St. Lucie ("City"), instituted suit in circuit court seeking a refund of stormwater utility fees levied by the City for the tax years 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1996/97 and 1997/98. Liability and damages were bifurcated below; this appeal solely concerns the Order entered below on the liability phase which provided the plaintiff class was entitled to a full refund for the tax years in question, issues as to damages (class members, refund due each member) to be determined at a subsequent proceeding. We affirm, largely relying on our previous decision in Atlantic Gulf Communities Corporation v. City of Port St. Lucie, 764 So.2d 14 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999).
In Atlantic Gulf, we addressed the same stormwater utility assessments, levied by the City on land owned by Atlantic Gulf Communities Corp. ("Atlantic Gulf"), the largest private owner of vacant/undeveloped land in the City. We held the stormwater utility non-ad valorem assessments for all tax-years after 1990/91, which were increased and/or modified from the initial assessment (in 1990/91), were invalid for failure to follow the strict notice procedures required by section 197.3632(4), Florida Statutes (1997). Atlantic Gulf, 764 So.2d at 19-20. Hence, we determined Atlantic Gulf was entitled to a full refund of assessments paid for those tax years to which it had timely objected. Id.
Meanwhile, in 1997, plaintiff class Zlinkoff et al., of which Atlantic Gulf was not a member, instituted suit challenging the validity of the same stormwater utility assessments, for the tax years 1993/94-1997/98. As we held in Atlantic Gulf, these assessments are invalid for failure to abide by the notice requirements of section 197.3632(4). Taxpayers, such as the plaintiff class, are normally entitled to a refund of taxes paid pursuant to an invalid assessment. See Coe v. Broward County, 358 So.2d 214 (Fla. 4th DCA 1978).
However, the City contends it should not have to refund the assessments collected for the tax years in question due to "equitable considerations."
Unlike in Atlantic Gulf, these issues were raised and litigated below,
We find the City's additional points raised on appeal pertaining to exhaustion of administrative remedies and laches unpersuasive. The order determining liability in favor of appellees Zlinkoff et al., and ordering a full refund for the tax years 1993/94-1997/98, is thus affirmed.
GROSS and TAYLOR, JJ., concur.
ON MOTION FOR REHEARING AND CLARIFICATION
Appellant's July 2, 2002, motion is granted as to the request for clarification; the remainder of that motion is denied. We clarify our original opinion issued June 19, 2002, as follows.
Our June 19, 2002, opinion adopts and affirms all holdings of law of this court in Atlantic Gulf Communities Corp. v. City of Port St. Lucie, 764 So.2d 14 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999), including those holdings entered on rehearing and clarification.
POLEN, C.J., GROSS and TAYLOR, JJ., concur.