The Third District Court of Appeal rejected the city of Miami’s appeal in breach of a settlement agreement lawsuit after it allowed a Miami developer to tear down a historic building in the MiMo Historic District, having previously agreed to preserve it.
Attorney David Winker represented the appellees, and said it’s a case that will encourage settlement agreements because the ruling makes it clear they’re now enforceable.
“It really sets forth this road map on how communities, residents, city governments and developers can resolve disputes,” said Winker. “The city taking the position that this wasn’t enforceable led to this uncertainty of, ‘How we will ever be able to settle these suits?’”
Winker’s clients, Elvis Cruz and Robert Stebbins, sued developer Avra Jain and the city of Miami in 2019 after entering into a settlement agreement in 2014 to preserve the historic Bayside Motor Inn, located at 5125 Biscayne Blvd.
“She bought this historic building and had a plan and wanted to knock it down,” said Winker. “We fought her on the teardown and, as part of that litigation, she agreed to preserve the property. We agreed to drop our litigation.”
Jain received transferable development rights, which allows developers to buy development rights to certain parcels of land within a designated area and then transfer those rights to another area to increase the density of the development. Winker said Jain sold the transferable development rights and demolished the building in 2017.
“She goes to the city and says, ‘I want to demolish the building,’” said Winker. “What does the city do? There’s your permit. I sued her and I sued the city.”
In the complaint, Cruz and Stebbins alleged the city breached a settlement agreement it entered into with them. They sought damages and injunctive relief. The city moved to dismiss, arguing the claims were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas denied the city’s motion to dismiss a count alleging it breached a settlement agreement.
Third DCA Judges Kevin Emas, Monica Gordo and Edwin Scales sat on the appellate panel.
“Cruz alleges in his complaint that the city breached an express written contract, a copy of which was attached to the complaint. Florida law recognizes a limited waiver of sovereign immunity where the municipality breaches an express written contract,” Judge Emas wrote in the opinion. “We find no error in the trial court’s order denying the city’s motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity.”
City attorney Victoria Méndez, senior assistant city attorney Christopher Green, and deputy city attorney John Greco represented the city. They did not respond to a request for comment.
Winker said his client wants a brick-for-brick replacement of the building, and claims the city and Jain is held liable for breaching their promise.