Plaintiffs claim victory after lawsuit dropped to block SB 76 ban on rooftop solicitations

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When the Florida Legislature approved Senate Bill 76 last year, with its restrictions on roofing contractors soliciting homeowners, insurers saw it as a blow against fraudulent and exaggerated roof claims.

Then a contractor, Gale Force Roofing and Restoration, and others quickly filed suit against the state law enforcement agency. In July 2021, a federal judge issued an injunction, temporarily suspending the law’s solicitation provisions, noting that bans may violate roofers’ constitutional right to free speech. The lawsuit drew protests from the insurance industry, but eventually led to the passage of other far-reaching but more nuanced laws at Florida’s special session last month.

Now, both sides in the Gale Force lawsuit have agreed that, thanks to recent measures enacted into law, the SB 76 restrictions are moot. The same federal judge who suspended the 2021 law agreed on Friday to dismiss the complaint.

“SB 2D now has the force of law and has resolved the complaints that Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs’ Intervenors have raised,” reads the joint motion to dismiss the case, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. “In sum, the declaratory and injunctive relief sought in the complaints is now ‘inappropriate’ and the matter moot.”

Gale Force Roofing’s attorney said Monday that his client essentially prevailed in the lawsuit, prevented the strict bans from taking effect and forced the Legislature to revise the law.

“Gale Force won its lawsuit, and it was only dismissed because there was no other remedy (other than the attorneys’ fees at issue) that the court could award,” the author wrote. attorney Jeremy Bailie, of St. Petersburg, in an email.

Senate Bill 2D, one of two reform bills approved in the special session on insurance May 23-25, made a wide range of legislative changes designed to limit roofing claims, unnecessary litigation and plaintiffs’ attorney fees. It also amended the same section of state law that last year’s SB 76 dealt with the solicitation of roofing work.

SB 76 had prohibited any “written or electronic communication by a contractor that encourages, instructs or induces a consumer to contact a contractor or public adjuster for the purpose of making an insurance claim for roof damage.” This included flyers, door hangers, business cards and emails.

This year’s SB 2D only prohibits advertisements that lack a disclaimer clearly stating that the owner is responsible for paying the insurance deductible and that a contractor offering to waive or pay the deductible is guilty of a third degree felony.

Florida Rep. Jay Trumbull, right, SB 2D House sponsor, and Rep. Matt Willhite during the passage of the bill in the special session. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

The only question remaining in the Gale Force lawsuit is how much attorneys’ fees accrued in the case – and who will pay them. Parties have until July 13 to file motions for costs and expenses, Judge Mark Walker wrote in his June 10 order.

The motion to dismiss also brought up a point that is sure to make the state capitol laugh. The motion notes that the case is ripe for dismissal because the new law repeals the provisions of SB 76, those provisions are unlikely to be re-enacted, and SB 2D was not passed simply to manipulate court thinking.

“First, the legislative changes were the product of thoughtful deliberation by the Florida Legislature, which met in special session to pass comprehensive reforms to the state’s insurance laws,” reads the statement. motion.

Those present at the special session can agree that while lawmakers gave a number of speeches about the pros and cons of SB 2D, they did not engage in real deliberation: passing the bill and of its counterpart, SB 4D, seemed like an early conclusion before the session started. The bills were reportedly crafted by the governor’s office and House and Senate leaders, and barely a word was changed during the session. Some 27 amendments were proposed, including a freeze on home insurance rates, but none passed.

SB 2D also added other provisions that were not mentioned in the motion to dismiss SB 76 lawsuit. A major change now prohibits benefit assignees from being awarded their attorneys’ fees, even if prevail in prosecution. Insurance industry advocates said it could help reduce the solicitation of roofers and should significantly reduce the thousands of AOB lawsuits filed each month in Florida.

It remains to be seen whether Gale Force Roofing will now join a lawsuit filed just days after the special session, which challenges the constitutionality of SB 2D. Bailie said he was not aware of any intervention plans from his client.

The lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court by the Restoration Association of Florida, a group of contractors, and Air Quality Assessors, a company that tests homes for mold after water leaks. .

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