Florida Gov. Insists On Keeping State Open Despite Pressure

By Carolina Bolado
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Law360 (March 23, 2020, 6:20 PM EDT) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back Monday against the idea of a statewide lockdown despite pressure — including a lawsuit over the state’s still-open beaches — to shut down the state to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

At a briefing in The Villages, DeSantis said locking down the state could backfire and pointed to New Yorkers fleeing the city to Florida after a stay-at-home order was enacted there.

“We’re getting huge amounts of people flying in,” he said. “We’re looking at how to address those flights.”

The governor said he expects to take additional measures soon but will “consider what makes sense for Florida.”

DeSantis is facing pressure to shut Florida down, particularly after images of spring breakers crowding beaches widely circulated last week. On Friday, Santa Rosa Beach attorney Daniel Uhlfelder filed a lawsuit against DeSantis for failing to close the beaches statewide.

Uhlfelder says the governor has the broad power under the state’s emergency management statute to issue executive orders in a crisis. On March 17, the governor ordered anyone accessing public beaches in Florida to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance by limiting groups to no more than 10 people and keeping a distance of at least six feet from other people, according to the lawsuit.

On Friday, the governor issued an executive order closing beaches in Broward County and Palm Beach County, but he has so far refused to close all beaches in the Sunshine State, according to the complaint. Miami-Dade County has also closed its beaches, as have some municipalities around the state.

But many beaches remain open in Florida, according to Uhlfelder.

“He needs to take action,” Uhlfelder said. “He needs to close the beaches. There are places where the virus is being spread and it’s bringing people here. He’s not taking action.”

He added that DeSantis’ decision will likely ripple nationwide as spring breakers and other beach-goers return to their homes and potentially spread COVID-19 there.

Uhlfelder is seeking injunctive relief that would direct DeSantis to close all of Florida’s beaches. He told Law360 on Monday that he is currently working on scheduling an emergency hearing.

A DeSantis spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Uhlfelder is representing himself.

Counsel information for DeSantis was unavailable.

The case is Uhlfelder v. DeSantis, case number 2020 CA 000552, in the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.

--Editing by Haylee Pearl.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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