PB: Good News on Palmer Trinity?

by SDM

Palmetto Bay’s new Village Attorney, Dexter Lehtinen, produced a power point presentation (a copy of which is available on his web page) on the current status of the Palmer Trinity litigation.

SDM finds the format very useful – in fact, it may be the clearest analysis of the litigation since the whole mess started. Mr. Lehtinen is to be commended – too bad the village didn’t hire him years ago.

We believe this statement is the most important one in the slide show:

Village is not insured against state
claims, due to sovereign immunity
protection; state claims will be defended by
insurance coverage as long as any federal
claim exists

Mr. Lehtinen explains that the remaining claims against the village are non-monetary, state claims or federal claims. Obviously, no cost can arise from a non-monetary claim other than legal expenses and associated costs.

So, we are left with several claims that can be classified as state or federal claims, or a combination of the two. Mr. Lehtinen appears to argue that any state claim would be capped by sovereign immunity ($100,000 per occurrence) or insured at $5 million per occurrence plus “defense fees,” which we take to mean legal fees that may or may not include costs.

Therefore, if the village were to lose on all the remaining counts, its exposure would be limited to the sovereign immunity cap (per occurrence) and/or whatever the insurance policy costs (e.g., a deductible if applicable).

SDM Wonders: Is Mr. Lehtinen telling us that the village’s exposure is nothing at this point? We don’t see those words anywhere in the presentation. Is there a possibility that one of the federal claims could result in a damage award greater than $5 million?

The sovereign immunity cap only constrains out-of-pocket costs to a municipality or governmental entity. Palmer Trinity could be awarded an amount greater than $100,000 on the state claims, but it would have to go to the legislature to receive payment. (This happens all the time when persons are injured by government and it is a time-consuming, expensive and many times fruitless process.)

Mr. Lehtinen is a little vague on the damages issue. He notes that Palmer received its zoning approval in 2010 and its development approval in August 2012. The pending lawsuit was filed in 2008. It looks to SDM like the delay causing monetary damages could be calculated beginning in 2008 and running through 2012.

Therefore, SDM Also Wonders:  Is Mr. Lehtinen saying that no monetary damages can be claimed by Palmer for the time period beginning in 2008 (or earlier) through 2012?

SDM imagines that Palmer is arguing that it lost out on at least two and maybe three classes of students at the 1150 number. If one says that Palmer missed the opportunity to enroll an additional 500 kids per year for two years at $20,000 per kid, one finds that Palmer forwent $20 million in gross revenue. Tack on a couple million in legal fees and that $5 million cap is starting to look a little thin.

SDM Says: The good news on Palmer Trinity – from Palmetto Bay taxpayers’ perspective – is that we have a real bulldog representing the city who may be able to force a settlement. The best solution for all concerned has always been to find a reasonable settlement and we hope village leaders can discover a path forward.

Of course, the regulars at CCOCI are already crowing as if Mr. Lehtinen has never lost a case and without hearing any of the arguments on the other side. They never seem to learn from their past mistakes.

SDM P.P.S.: One fact remains unchanged, however: Palmer Trinity has been subjected to a deliberate, calculated and cynical attack by a tiny minority of the village’s residents. They have turned a village gem into an enemy camp, merely because they disagreed with Palmer’s right to buy property and expand its school. Village taxpayers finance and sanction (by electing certain people) this attack on a private institution, which shames us all.


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