Three Strikes and Miami Beach Minimum Wage Law is Out

The dream of former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine that the city should have its own, higher minimum wage law has finally crashed and burned at the newly reconstituted Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee.

By a 4-3 vote on August 29 last year, the justices had agreed to consider a discretionary appeal by Miami Beach in the minimum-wage case, and oral argument had been scheduled for March 6.

However, since then Florida’s new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, took office on January 8 and appointed former appellate judges Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck and former U.S. Department of Education General Counsel Carlos Muniz to the Supreme Court. The vacancies had resulted following the retirements in January of three longtime justices who left the court because of a mandatory retirement age. The newly constituted court may have a more conservative judicial philosophy.

In a 5-2 order issued on February 5, the court reversed its prior ruling and dismissed the Miami Beach appeal without a decision. Two of DeSantis’s new appointees, Lagoa and Muniz, were in the majority, while Luck dissented.

The Miami Beach City Commission had voted unanimously in June of 2016 to create a new citywide minimum wage proposed by then Mayor Levine that was higher than both the state and federal minimum wages.

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, while the Florida state minimum wage is now $8.46 an hour. The Miami Beach minimum wage was to have been set at $10.31 an hour, and then increased a dollar a year until 2021, when it was supposed to reach $13.31, a 65% increase. Business organizations, including the Florida Retail Federation, as well as the state of Florida, fought the ordinance in court, filing a lawsuit to seek to have the ordinance declared illegal.

In the initial courtroom battle, Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Peter R. Lopez ruled on March 27 last year that the Miami Beach ordinance violated a 2003 Florida statute that prohibits municipalities from adopting their own minimum wage laws and was therefore invalid. Twenty-seven states prohibit local governments from enacting local minimum wages.

In Round 2, the city’s subsequent appeal was also decided against Miami Beach last December 13 by a unanimous three-judge panel of the Florida intermediate Third District Court of Appeal, which upheld the ruling by Judge Lopez.

“Section 218.077(2) of the Florida Statutes is a preemption statute that expressly prohibits political subdivisions of the state from establishing a minimum wage,” the appeal court concluded.

The Third District held unanimously that the Florida Constitution authorizes the state legislature to preempt municipal powers by statute. They also categorically rejected the city’s principal argument that Article X, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution, a citizen initiative approved by the state’s voters in 2004, had implicitly nullified the statute’s preemption provision and therefore the statute was unconstitutional.

Round 3 in Tallahassee was a strikeout for Miami Beach, putting an end to the legal battle.

“Upon further consideration,” the Supreme Court stated in its two-paragraph decision, “we exercise our discretion and discharge jurisdiction. Accordingly, we hereby dismiss this review proceeding.”

About the Author

Angel Castillo, Jr.

Angel Castillo, Jr. has more than 30 years of experience in employment and other civil litigation and in domestic and international arbitrations. Before joining DLD Lawyers as head of the employment law practice group, he served as a partner at the Miami offices of several national employment law firms, including Jackson Lewis, Ogletree Deakins and…

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