Florida Supreme Court backs West Palm Beach’s refusal to investigate residents’ complaint against neighbor

TALLAHASSEE — In a win for local governments, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously rejected an attempt to require the city of West Palm Beach to investigate an alleged zoning violation and take action against a property owner.

The 20-page ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by West Palm Beach residents Peter and Galina Haver, who believed that a neighbor, Miriam Galan, was running a group home in violation of the city’s zoning code.

The lawsuit, in part, sought an injunction requiring the city to investigate the situation and enforce zoning requirements against Galan.

But the Supreme Court, siding with the city, said the request for an injunction should be dismissed.

“We decline to endorse a judicially created remedy that would so exceed current limits on the exercise of the judicial power,” Justice Carlos Muniz wrote for the court. “The Havers invite judicial interference with administrative enforcement decisions of a kind that traditionally have been considered discretionary and that embody value-laden judgments about the proper allocation of scarce governmental resources. And they ask us to subject these decisions to judicial review even in the absence of allegations that the government itself has acted illegally. If judicial oversight of such matters is to be expanded, that innovation must be authorized by the Legislature or by a city’s own ordinance.”

The case drew attention from local governments, with the Florida League of Cities filing a friend-of-the-court brief pointing to a “Pandora’s box” if courts would get involved in such issues.

“Living in a municipality can be filled with disappointments,” the organization’s brief said. “A neighbor doesn’t behave as she should; drivers run red lights; crime is higher than it ‘ought to be;’ and government services don’t always live up to expectations. If every such disappointment gave rise to a cause of action against local government to enforce legal standards, local government would grind to a halt. All available financial resources would be depleted in endless litigation.”

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