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City Prevails In Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuit

In a landmark private property rights case that will shape the Destin Harbor for years to come, the City of Destin has prevailed against the Destin Fishing Fleet, Inc., as to all counts, after a legal battle that was ongoing for almost five years. The Fleet was seeking nearly $15 million dollars from the City pursuant to the Bert J. Harris Private Property Act. However, the First Circuit Judge found that the Fleet wrongly accused the City of Destin of violating the Bert Harris Act, which allows demands for compensation if government regulations diminish the value of private property.

The Fleet claimed its rights were violated and its property value was diminished when the City adopted comprehensive plan amendments in May 2018 to restrict the heights of all buildings in the City to six stories or less. After overwhelming support in favor of this height limitation, the public later voted to enshrine this height limit in the City’s Charter. No action was taken on the Fleet’s property specifically, rather, the amendments applied City-wide. Notwithstanding that the amendments were imposed City-wide, only the Fleet sued the City.

Before the adopted comprehensive plan amendments, buildings of more than 6 stories were allowed in certain areas of the City, including the area in which the Fleet’s property is located. The Fleet claimed it intended to build a 16-story mixed use development largely consisting of hotel rooms on its property before the comprehensive plan amendments.

In its ruling, the Court stated that the City “did not take any action which constituted an inordinate burden or precluded the [Fleet] from attaining ‘any reasonable, investment-backed expectation’ on the property.”
Instead of the Fleet being awarded the $15 million it sought, the City is now entitled to its costs and attorneys’ fees and may seek an award of those costs and fees against the Fleet. The Court reserved jurisdiction to consider the amount to be awarded to the City.

The Fleet has 30 days to appeal the Court’s decision.

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