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State official to federal judge: Law protects consumers from contractors, does not violate First Amendment

DBPR Secretary says in court papers that allegations in lawsuit are "inconsistent" with act legislature approved and governor signed


  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 11:20 a.m. August 27, 2021
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
COURTESY: Contractor claims recently-passed legislation is a violation of First Amendment rights and hurts consumers.
COURTESY: Contractor claims recently-passed legislation is a violation of First Amendment rights and hurts consumers.
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Florida’s Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation has denied allegations in a federal lawsuit that a law recently passed and signed by the governor violates roofing contractors’ First Amendment rights.

Attorneys for Secretary Julie Brown, who was sued in her role as head of DBPR, write in a response filed in federal court that “the text of the act speaks for itself, and (Brown) denies any allegations or characterizations inconsistent with the text of the act.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in June by Brandon-based contractors Gale Force Roofing & Restoration and later joined by several other contractors statewide. It claims HB 7065, which the Legislature passed in the most recent session and that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law June 11, hurts citizens who may be stuck with damaged homes.

The lawsuit claims the law forbids contractors from advertising to homeowners and encouraging them to contact a contractor to check their roof for damage and then filing an insurance claim when necessary. This, the lawsuit says, is an “unconscionable attack on the right for homeowners to receive truthful information about how to repair the damage to their property.”

Penalties for violators include a $10,000 fine per incident and the possibility of a license suspension. Gale Force argues that if a contractor sends an advertising mailer to 100 homes in an area devastated by a hurricane, the contractor could face a $1 million fine and lose its license.

“The act is a frontal assault on the First Amendment and an extraordinary intervention by the government that would be unthinkable in any other context,” the company argues in court filings. 

State officials, however, contend dishonest contractors use an assignment of benefits as a way to collect money for work that leaves the owner owing money for unnecessary or incomplete work.

In her response to Gale Force’s request for an injunction to stop enforcement of the law, Brown argues the law “plainly survives as a measure and narrowly tailored tool to protect consumers” and that the law is a “modest, and constitutional, regulation of contractors.”

A federal judge granted the injunction July 11.

Brown’s 10-page response to the federal lawsuit does not address any of the allegations in great detail and repeats phrases like “the quoted statements of Florida lawmakers speak for themselves” and “the caselaw citied in this paragraph speak for itself.”

Jeremy Bailie, the attorney representing Gale Force says in an email that Brown’s defense boils down to the company not stating a claim for a First Amendment violation and that it is not entitled to relief because it “was illegally operating as an unlicensed public adjuster.”

Bailie says the judge’s July decision to grant the injunction proves Brown “will need a significant change in the facts to win on that ground.”

“The second defense is completely baseless,” he says. “There’s no evidence to support that, and, even if there was, it is not a legal defense to our First Amendment claim.”

DBPR says in an email that the department “does not comment on current or pending litigation.”

 

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