COVID mask warrants lifted in Florida, but legal battles continue


TALLAHASSEE – Governor Ron DeSantis prevented cities and counties from requiring people to wear masks in early May to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But that hasn’t stopped the legal battles over mask warrants.

Alachua County attorneys last week asked the 1st District Court of Appeals to reconsider a ruling in a case regarding the constitutionality of a county-imposed mask requirement in 2020. On June 11, a an appeals court panel overturned an Alachua County ruling. circuit judge, who dismissed a challenge to the requirement.

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Meanwhile, a challenge to a mask warrant imposed last year by Palm Beach County is pending in the Florida Supreme Court. Judges have not announced whether they will take up the case.

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In the case filed last Thursday at the 1st District Court of Appeals, Alachua County lawyers argued that the panel’s decision this month should be reconsidered because the case is moot. With DeSantis in early May blocking local mask mandates, the legislature passed a measure (SB 2006) that places strict restrictions on local emergency ordinances. This measure will come into force on Thursday.

Alachua County is asking for a new hearing before the three-judge panel or a hearing before the Tallahassee Full Court.

“(Shortly) before the opinions of the committee were delivered, the legislature addressed the issue raised in this appeal. Since the matter has been dealt with by law, the panel should grant a new hearing and dismiss the appeal as moot, as “constitutional questions will only be decided by a court when necessary to dispose of the case. “said the request for a rehearing, citing in part a court precedent.

Alachua County, which required people to wear masks in businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants, was one of many local governments in Florida to approve such warrants in an attempt to curb COVID-19. Justin Green, who operates a nursery, challenged the requirement and then went to the appeals court after circuit judge Donna Keim refused to grant a temporary injunction in May 2020.

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The appeals court panel, in a 2-1 decision, said Keim failed to properly consider Green’s privacy rights before rejecting a temporary injunction. The majority of the panel stopped before declaring Alachua County’s requirement unconstitutional but referred the case to the lower court.

The majority also said the issue was not moot, pointing to the possibility that Alachua County may try to impose a mask requirement in the future.

“Due to the nature of the various emergency orders that we have seen and the county’s continued commitment to wearing a public mask, we are not convinced this is the last we will see of this issue,” Judge Adam Tanenbaum, who was joined in the majority opinion of Judge Robert Long, wrote in a footnote.

But Judge Joseph Lewis, in a dissenting opinion, argued the case was moot because DeSantis’ executive order last month prevented Alachua County from requiring masks.

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“The effect of the majority decision could lead to the trial court’s constitutional analysis of a non-existent order,” Lewis wrote. “The trial court could not grant appellant (Green) relief from an injunction directing the county to enforce the mask warrant contained in its emergency order because that order is no longer in force and that there is therefore no execution to order. “

Local mask warrants sparked a series of court challenges across the state last year, with the Alachua County and Palm Beach County cases leading to conflicting appeals court rulings. A 4th District Court of Appeals panel in January supported a circuit judge’s refusal to block the Palm Beach County warrant, prompting plaintiffs to take the matter to the Supreme Court.


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