MDX Files Suit Against the Board of Directors of the Greater Miami Expressway Agency
MIAMI, Oct. 28, 2021
MIAMI, Oct. 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The Miami Dade County Expressway Authority ("MDX") filed suit this morning in Miami Dade County Circuit Court against the five individuals appointed by Governor DeSantis to serve as the Board of Directors of the Greater Miami Expressway Agency ("GMX"), thus taking another step in the long-running feud over who controls the agency charged with operating Miami-Dade County's $4 billion expressway system.
According to MDX's attorney Gene Stearns of Stearns Weaver Miller, "GMX is a 'zombie agency' that was abolished by the Miami-Dade County Commission through the proper exercise of the County's home rule powers provided by the Florida Constitution. MDX's lawsuit," he said, "simply seeks to have the court make clear that under the Constitution, only the County can determine who has the right to own and control MDX's transportation assets."
The County Commission created MDX in 1994. It entered into an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to purchase "in perpetuity" all of the County's east/west expressways and since then has expanded the system four-fold, establishing itself as one of the County's most successful local agencies, serving millions of motorists each year.
Stearns said that some local legislators "don't seem to understand that the Constitution gives the County the absolute right to keep local government close to the people. When MDX acquired the expressway system 'in perpetuity,'" he said, "that meant forever. Only the County can decide to make it less than forever. Local legislators have short terms," he said, "but the damage their grab for power would cause would last forever."
The dispute began on May 3, 2019, when the House Speaker and Senate President joined with some of the legislators elected by County voters to support a "local bill," applicable only in Miami-Dade County that would seize control of MDX and all of its assets, terminate its existence and turn over all of the expressway system to a new state agency, GMX, that would be controlled by what Stearns describes as "Tallahassee politicians who talk about keeping government close to the people but do exactly the opposite."
This is the second lawsuit raising the issue of who controls the County's expressway system. The first challenge to the legislature was brought by MDX on May 7, 2019 in a suit filed in the Circuit Court in Leon County. MDX won that suit when Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper determined that the act of the legislature abolishing MDX and creating GMX was unconstitutional, citing a long string of Supreme Court decisions going back over 70 years. MDX's victory was cut short, however, as the First District Court of Appeal determined that MDX did not have "standing" to complain in its own name about an act of the legislature abolishing its existence. In deciding the issue on standing only, the First District declined to consider the lawfulness of the act creating GMX and abolishing MDX, leaving that issue for another day.
The dispute took a sharp turn after the First District decision, when the County Commission turned the tables on the legislature by adopting an ordinance which abolished GMX and reinstated MDX. The County also refused to fill seats on the GMX board, preventing a GMX board from having a quorum and thus delaying a showdown over control of the system.
In an attempt to overcome the County Commission's unwillingness to accept its actions, the legislature last session amended the statute creating GMX to allow the Governor to appoint a majority of a GMX board, an act intended to allow the Governor to create a quorum and proceed with the takeover. The announcement that the Governor's appointees to the Greater Miami Expressway Agency board would be meeting Thursday in Fort Lauderdale led to MDX's decision to initiate legal action.
Stearns said that this suit is different than the first because it is a "quiet title" claim, a cause of action that exists in the law to resolve disputes over the ownership of property. "This time, it is the legislature's agency that has been abolished," Stearns said. "Its board has no lawful power to do anything and, if the First District's decision is followed, it is now GMX that lacks standing to complain about its abolition."
Stearns said Judge Cooper was right and the Constitutional issues could hardly be more clear. "An oath to uphold and defend the Constitution should actually mean something," he said. "For over 70 years, generations of County leaders who often disagreed on many things joined together shoulder to shoulder to defend home rule against attacks like this one, fighting the good fight against those who would take local government away from the people. This," he said, "is one of the moments where thoughtless acts of legislative politicians whose terms and powers are limited by the Constitution they have chosen to disrespect, could destroy what 70 years of County leaders have to this point successfully defended, government closer to the people."
Eugene E. Stearns, Esq.
Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A.
150 West Flagler Street, Suite 2200
Miami, FL 33130
SOURCE Stearns Weaver Miller