By Thomas J. RowellOn July, 8th, 2016, Circuit Court Judge James D. Sloan released his ruling that there was no violation of the Florida Sunshine Law and found for the defendant, Hendry County, in an action lawsuit, which was filed in November of 2013 and amended in May of 2015. Neighbors of a newly proposed facility on the Lee County border brought a lawsuit against the county alleging that because it never held hearings or told them about a primate facility being built in their neighborhood the county violated Florida's Sunshine Law. In November of 2013, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), on behalf of three Hendry County residents filed a lawsuit against Hendry County alleging Hendry County violated Florida Statutes 286.011(1) commonly referred to as the Florida Sunshine Law. In their complaint they stated that a new nonhuman primate facility, which is proposed to be located in the northeast section of the County would “confine, quarantine, and breed thousands of wild and imported non-human primates (macaques) in a rural residential neighborhood”. They further stated that “unlike domestic livestock, non-human primates are known carriers of a wide array of serious infectious diseases such as Ebola, Herpes B, tuberculosis, and parasites that may be transmitted to humans” in their complaint. They sought to declare that Hendry County’s approval of the new facilities was void because it was not considered at a public hearing after adequate public notice, to have the courts issue an injunction mandating Hendry County to rescind its approval of the new facility permits, and to issue an injunction prohibiting Hendry County from approving future wild nonhuman primate facilities in general agriculture zoning without first conducting a public hearing. In May of 2015, the lawsuit was expanded to include a second company which entered into a contract with Primate Products Inc. (PPI) and resides on property owned by Panther Tracks LLC, which is also home for the PPI operation that has been in business for over 15 years at that location. None of the three residents for which the suit had been filed on behalf of lived in close proximity of Panther Tracks (they were over 30 miles away in the far northeast section of the county) and one of the three residents had only purchased property in July of 2013, after building permits had been issued for the expansion at Panther Tracks LLC. Judge Sloan considered the following two points in his ruling:
- Did actions taken by Hendry County violate the Florida Sunshine Law?
- If not, had Hendry County violated the purpose and intent of the Sunshine Law by assigning or abdicating policy making function to staff?