A Miami restaurant, the Lemoni Cafe, and its landlord who had been operating an illegal sidewalk cafe were recently sued after patrons were injured when a car lost control and crashed into them, causing serious personal injuries. Consequently, the City of Miami mayor, Tomas Regalado, was dragged into the case when the plaintiffs’ lawyers sought to depose him and the City Manager, Daniel Alfonso, to demonstrate that the cafe had been permitted to operate illegally after being repeatedly cited by the code enforcement board. In fact, citations had been issued in December 2011 and March 2014. After the March 2014 citation, the Code Enforcement Board hearing scheduled for June 3, 2014, was continued and ultimately never held. Months later, the accident occurred.
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The politicians sought protection from the court to prevent the depositions from proceeding, and the request was denied. They then appealed to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. Their briefs argued that the plaintiffs could not compel the mayor and city manager’s depositions because they had failed to demonstrate that the mayor and city manager were uniquely able to provide relevant information that could not be obtained from other sources. However, before seeking to take the mayor’s deposition, the plaintiffs had deposed seven other City of Miami officials who presumably should have known how and why the Lemoni Café’s illegal sidewalk café was permitted to continue operating after receiving two citations from code enforcement. These included the code enforcement director, a code enforcement supervisor, and a representative from the mayor’s office, but each City of Miami official testified that he or she did not know.
Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motions for protective orders and ordered that the depositions be completed. The City timely filed its petition for writ of certiorari, and the court granted the City’s motion to stay the depositions.
The plaintiffs seek to depose the Mayor because the defendant cafés and landlord claim that after they received the citations, the Mayor’s Office permitted the illegal sidewalk café to continue operating. Specifically, a representative for the landlord stated in deposition that a representative from the mayor’s office gave him permission to keep the cafe open.
The plaintiffs wanted to depose the city manager because after the accident, he had investigated the matter to determine why the June 2014 hearing was cancelled and never reset. As the past director of code enforcement stated in deposition, she was demoted by the city manager after the incident because she “didn’t have the answers for why this case was not heard” by the Code Enforcement Board. In other words, it appears that the landlord had obtained a special favor from the Mayor’s Office (or possibly the City Manager), allowing the tenants to continue their illegal sidewalk cafe.
FLORIDA RULES ON TAKING DEPOSITIONS AND DISCOVERY
Florida’s Rule of Civil Procedure 1.280(b) allows parties to discover “any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the subject matter of the pending action” or which “appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Moreover, courts enjoy broad discretion in overseeing discovery matters and in granting and denying motions for protective order.((Remington Lodging & Hosp., LLC v. Southernmost House, LTD, 206 So. 3d 764, 764 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016).))
In this case, the appellate court found that the trial judge “did not depart from the essential requirements of law” in compelling the depositions of the Mayor and City Manager. The Mayor and City Manager’s petition was denied.
I agree with this result. While we do not represent the plaintiff in this case, we certainly applaud their lawyers for their zealous effort at finding the truth. This case is a brilliant example of the tenacity and grit of some of Miami’s best personal injury lawyers, and we wish them the very best in supporting their clients’ pursuit of justice.
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