Appeals Court Hands David Beckham, MLS Big Win in Lawsuit Over Overtown Site

David Beckham may not want to build his soccer stadium in Overtown, but the Miami 3rd District Court of Appeals won’t stand in his way, as they’ve rejected the appeal of Bruce Matheson the local Miami man who filed suit over the sale of the Overtown land to Beckham’s group.

Matheson lost the suit (hard), and filed the appeal back in December 2017. Oral arguments were heard in June 2018, and we’ve been waiting for the decision ever since. Well, we’ve gotten it, and the Court of Appeals has sided with Beckham.

At issue was whether the City was obligated to offer up the public land to a competitive bid process. Matheson argued the City should have put the land up to bid, while the City (and Beckham) argued that given the land was being sold at market rate (or even if was below) and was for a unique developmental purpose (a professional soccer stadium), Florida statutes allowed them to sell the land without putting it out to bid.

The appeals court summarizes the issue pretty succinctly.

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The standard of review on appeal was “de novo,” which means they act if they’re hearing the case for the first time, and don’t defer to the lower court ruling, or give it any particular weight.

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With that in mind, the Court set about ruling on each of the issues in the case. It started out well for Matheson, as the Court determined he had standing to bring this case. The City argued that even if Matheson could purchase the property for as much or more as the City sold it to Beckham for, Matheson couldn’t use the property for the purpose intended: building a MLS stadium. Matheson argued that he could. Somewhat surprisingly (to me), the Court sided with Matheson. based on the fact that they’re required for purposes of this case to accept Matheson’s pleadings as true.

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However, the positive start to the ruling quickly turned sour for Matheson, as the Court then sided with the City on the argument of being required to put the land out to bid. Essentially, the Court found that they’re required to consider the statutes in a way that gives deference to the intent of the legislature.

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The general premise here is that you don’t want to read parts of a statute -or even separate statutes- as in conflict with each other. Otherwise, you’ve basically nullified two laws. So if it’s possible, the Court will read them as in agreement with each other.

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Which makes sense, of course. Legislatures aren’t in the business of passing laws inapposite of each other.

Here, the two statutes are 1) Require the city to put land out for bid and, 2) Allow the city to sell land without bidding where it is determined that the sale will result in a unique business/development opportunity. Sure, Matheson could buy the land for the highest price and open up a McDonald’s. But he can’t get a MLS team, which arguably presents a much larger economic development. As the Court notes, those are clearly in conflict with each other.

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The Court then runs through several other of Matheson’s arguments, and dispatches them summarily. The most interesting of which is Matheson’s argument that allowing this exception to the competitive bidding process would invite corruption by simply calling a sale “economic development.” The Court wasn’t having any of it, pointing out such a scheme is illegal, and that Beckham’s project clearly qualifies on its face.

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Whatever you think of Beckham’s proposal to build a stadium in Overtown, it’s not credible to suggest that spending what he was proposing on a stadium doesn’t qualify as “economic development.” Especially when he was financing it privately.

So that’s the gist of the affirmation of the lower court ruling. Mr. Matheson can request a reconsideration of the ruling, but that isn’t likely to go anywhere. His next step would be then appealing to the Florida Supreme Court. Of course, given that Beckham is trying to build a stadium in a completely different place, this may all be moot at some point. But it’s another win for Beckham and MLS.

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