Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Third District Affirms Injunction Against Republican Party Relating To Its Refusal To Seat Certain Individuals

In The Republican Party of Miami-Dade County and Republican Party of Florida v. Davis (3D08-3126), the Third District affirmed the trial court's entry of a temporary injunction requiring "the Party to seat 19 individuals (the plaintiffs below, appellees here) as Miami-Dade Executive Committee members. The Party had declined to recognize the appellees as Executive Committee members because of their failure to file a Party loyalty oath before the June 20, 2008, qualifying deadline."

Judge Salter wrote the 15 page opinion which Chief Judge Ramirez joined. Judge Cope specially concurred in a 14 page opinion stating he could not join the opinion but agrees with the result. The majority opinion states:
We conclude that the Party retained an express statutory right to "provide for the selection of its … county executive committee in such manner as it deems proper," but that it (a) failed to make the new forms sufficiently accessible to prospective candidates to comport with the Election Code and (b) failed to bring an action to enforce the new requirement before the election. Accordingly, we affirm the injunction below.


To summarize this analysis of the two statutes as they apply to the Party’s new oath and deadline, different statutory provisions within the Election Code should be construed together to harmonize the statutes, to give effect to the Legislature’s intent, and to avoid rendering one of the two provisions meaningless. Fla. Dep’t of State v. Martin, 916 So. 2d 763, 768 (Fla. 2005). Further, the statute applying specifically to political party executive committee candidates should control in the event of a conflict with the general statute applying to candidates of every stripe—for state constitutional office, for state and federal elected office, and for political party committee positions. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Nichols, 932 So. 2d 1067, 1073 (Fla. 2006).

Harmonizing the statutes as we must, we conclude that the Party has the right and the authority to require its own form of loyalty oath as a condition of eligibility to seek election to a committee membership position, and the right and authority to require receipt of that oath (as a party membership rule) before the election. That is not, however, the end of the analysis.


Here, the appellees did not refuse to execute the Party’s new form of oath; they executed that oath (or in a few cases, offered to do so) promptly after learning that it was required. The Party does not argue, and did not prove, that the appellees failed to file the oath with the Party office before the qualifying deadline because they were attempting to avoid or circumvent the requirement. Rather, the record establishes that while existing Party officials and executive committee members were informed of the additional requirement, no mass mailing or website bulletin disseminated the notice and form to others.

The Party’s decision not to challenge the plaintiffs before the election is also a fatal flaw in its case below. The Party was fully aware of the appellees’ alleged non-compliance before the election, but did not attempt to have the allegedly-ineligible names stricken from the ballot. Florida law recognizes an estoppel in a case such as this, in which the alleged irregularities were known before the ballots were cast and results announced.


COPE, J. (specially concurring).

I agree on the result but cannot join the majority opinion. Respectfully, the majority opinion’s statutory analysis is incorrect, and contravenes well-settled Florida precedent....


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