Florida agricultural commissioner Adam Putnam “has done absolutely nothing” to uphold private property rights in a case involving Lee County homeowners whose citrus trees were destroyed under the citrus-canker eradication program more than 15 years ago, a state judge has ruled.
Fort Myers Circuit Court Judge Keith Kyle said Putnam must immediately order the ag department to pay roughly $17 million in damages to nearly 12,000 households or face contempt of court.
"The commandment to pay full compensation when the state takes private property for a public purpose has been enshrined in the Florida Constitution for more than 150 years," Kyle wrote in a March 20 decision.
According to the Fort Myers News-Press and Tampa Bay Times, the state seized nearly 34,000 healthy citrus trees in Lee County between 2000 and 2006. In 2014 a Lee County jury awarded compensation to homeowners who filed a class-action lawsuit 15 years ago. The Second District Court of Appeal in Tampa denied an attempt to by Putnam to reverse the verdict in 2016.
"Commissioner Putnam essentially has done absolutely nothing to attempt to secure payment for the (homeowners) because he apparently has no obligation to do so, despite the finality of the instant judgments," Kyle wrote.
According to ag department spokeswoman Jennifer Meale, "We're reviewing the ruling."
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