Developers often pay more to handle projects that face public opposition, but it isn't often that developers get paid by such opposition groups. On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a jury in Stuart, Florida found that a well-known environmentalist (the "Defendant") unlawfully interfered with the ongoing negotiations and approval process of a mining project near Lake Okeechobee (the "Project").
At the beginning of the approval process, the developer and the County maintained an agreeable relationship and worked together like "partners" to come to an agreement for approval of the Project. But, according to the evidence adduced during the trial, the partnership between the County and the developer ceased once the Defendant began to communicate over e-mail with Martin County commissioners, coaching them on how to obstruct and delay approval of the Project. The developer argued during the trial that the Defendant used false or misleading information-including the developer's alleged destruction of thousands of acres of wetlands-as evidence that the County should not approve the Project. Ultimately, when the Project was not approved, the developer claimed a loss of four million dollars against the Defendant. This week, in a decision that has left most shocked, the jury sided with the developer against the Defendant and entered a verdict of $4,400,000.
Though this verdict doesn't signal the end of public opposition or the guaranteed ability to sue those who oppose projects, it does signal judicial willingness to hold accountable those groups responsible for unlawful interference.
If you have questions involving a project of yours that was denied due to unlawful interference by a third party, please contact any member of the firm's Land Use, Zoning, & Environmental Group.