The ruling was the latest development in an ongoing lawsuit brought against the city by three non-profit entities, Suncoast Waterkeeper of Sarasota (SKWK), and Our Children’s Earth Foundation (OCEF) and Ecological Rights Foundation (ERF), both based in California.
US District Court Judge Susan Bucklew ruled against Gulfport’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that the plaintiffs have sufficient legal standing to pursue their claims that Gulfport’s sewage discharges violate the Clean Water Act. The court also denied the city of Gulfport’s request for judicial notice of “certain facts and documents, specifically eight sworn declarations filed by Plaintiffs in the St. Petersburg Action,” according to records, a reference to a similar lawsuit the groups have brought against the city of St. Petersburg.
“SCWK and ERF have sufficiently pled causation between Defendant’s SSOs [Sanitary Sewer Overflows] and SCWK’s and ERF’s members’ impaired enjoyment of local waterbodies,” the ruling stated. The lawsuit will proceed.
“This ruling supports citizen’s rights to address failures of municipalities like Gulfport and St. Petersburg … to protect the public and local environment from harm resulting from neglect of the basic sewage infrastructure needs of the community,” said Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, in a press release dated May 2, 2017.
On January 4, 2017, the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, received a lawsuit from the three organizations against Gulfport for what they claim are “illegal discharges of raw or partially treated sewage (into) waters adjoining Gulfport” during a time period from January 12, 2009 to “violations occurring after November 2, 2015 and assessed on or after August 1, 2016.”
“The city of Gulfport did nothing wrong,” City Attorney Andrew Salzman said at a city council meeting Tuesday, February 21, after the lawsuit was filed. “We’re just another cog in their wheel of more than one municipality that they’re seeking” damages against.
At the February 21 meeting, council also approved a $25,000 litigation insurance deductible fee. The law firm of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman, LLP has been retained to defend Gulfport.
In response to the latest ruling Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly was brief.
“As is our policy, we cannot comment on pending legislation,” O’Reilly said on Tuesday, May 3. “We will be conferring with counsel to see what our next step will be.”