Power Pole (File)

Fight Over Utility Overhaul In Florida Continues

Power Pole (File)
Power Pole (File)

After a federal judge dismissed Gov. Ron DeSantis as a defendant last month, plaintiffs are continuing to pursue a lawsuit challenging a new state law that overhauled the municipal utility in the Gainesville area.

The group Gainesville Residents United and six individual plaintiffs filed a court document last week that said the case should continue with the city of Gainesville as a defendant.

The document came after U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor last month described the city as a “nominal defendant” and ordered the plaintiffs to show why claims against the city should not be dismissed.

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The law, approved during last year’s legislative session, created the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority to replace the longstanding Gainesville Regional Utilities agency.

It gave DeSantis power to appoint the authority’s board members, after Gainesville Regional Utilities had been under control of the city commission.

The lawsuit, filed in July, made a series of allegations, including that the law would improperly restrict speech rights. In part, the lawsuit contended that the law would prevent plaintiffs and other people from seeking “redress of grievances pertaining to social, political, environmental, and ideological issues that are inherent in the operation of a utility system.”

The lawsuit was initially filed against DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Secretary of State Cord Byrd and the city of Gainesville. Moody and Byrd were dropped from the case in October, leaving only the city as a defendant after Winsor dismissed DeSantis from the case.

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In the document filed last week, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the city remains a proper defendant because the new utility authority is a “unit” of the city.

“Plaintiffs expect to prevail on the merits of their claim and will request entry of a broad injunction which will bind the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority along with every other division and department of the city,” the document said.

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