The First District Court of Appeal, in an opinion released today, has unanimously AFFIRMED the ruling by Escambia County Circuit Court Judge Scott Duncan ruling that the Escambia County School District lacked standing to challenge the Constitutionality of Fla. Stats. Section 196.199(2)(b) governing taxation of leases on government-owned land. This ruling lets stand the trial court’s ruling that the land beneath Santa Rosa Dunes at Pensacola Beach belongs to the County, and is thus immune from ad valorem taxation.
The issue was before the First DCA on an appeal by the Escambia County School District which sought, at the behest of the Escambia County Property Appraiser, to challenge the constitutionality of the controlling tax statute. All of the judges on the three-judge panel acknowledged that controlling precedent supported the trial judge’s granting of summary judgment against the school district. In a concurring opinion, Judge Bilbrey wrote that while he disagreed with the broad restrictions placed on standing by public officials, that he agreed the panel was bound to follow such precedent. He pointed out that the First DCA had previously upheld the constitutionality of the challenged statute, concluding that “even if the District had standing to sue, we would be correct to affirm…”
“We are obviously pleased with this decision,” said Ed Fleming, who together with Todd Harris, represented Santa Rosa Dunes. “This puts to bed the last avenue for challenging the earlier wins for Pensacola Beach leaseholders in Island Resorts v. Jones, and Beach Club v. Jones.”
Harris said that more than half of the pending cases with the Property Appraiser concerning valuing improvements only, recognizing the immunity of publically-owned land, have been resolved; and he and Fleming are optimistic that the remaining cases can be resolved as well.