In 2018, Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that nonresidential farm buildings, farm fences, and farm signs on lands that are used for a bona fide agricultural purpose are not only exempt from building permit requirements, they are also exempt from zoning regulations.
In 14269 BT, LLC v. Village of Wellington, 240 So. 3d 1 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018), a farm owner challenged citations issued by the Village of Wellington for the owner's failure to obtain building permits for 2 barns, a storage building, and a manure bin and for constructing more than 1 barn on agricultural property within the equestrian district. The case proceeded to a hearing before a Village of Wellington magistrate who ruled in favor of the Village. The corrective action required was substantial: the farm owner was ordered to tear down the second barn. The farm owner appealed to the Circuit Court of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County which upheld the Village's decision in an unelaborated opinion. This decision was reviewed by the Fourth DCA, which concluded that the Circuit Court “departed from the essential requirements of the law” in contravention of the “plain language” of Florida Statute §604.50 This statute exempts “any nonresidential farm building, farm fence, or farm sign that is located on lands used for bona fide agricultural purposes” from “the Florida Building Code and any county or municipal code or fee, except for code provisions implementing local, state, or federal floodplain management regulations.” Until this case, there were no decisions interpreting the applicability of F.S. §604.50 to zoning regulations. This case sets important precedent for farm owners. Click here to view the full Fourth DCA opinion. Please contact my office if you have any questions or if I can be of assistance to you.
agriculture, agricultural exemption, ag exemption, farm, horse farm, stable
Does your farm have equine liability notices posted? Do you obtain signed releases from visitors to your farm? A 2016 decision by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal reinforces the importance of complying with Fla. Stat. Chapter 773, referred to as the Equine Activities Liability Act, to obtain immunity from liability due to the inherent risks of equine activities. In Germer v. Churchill Downs Mgmt., 201 So. 3d 721 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016), the defendant horse and stable owners were shielded from liability after the Plaintiff, Germer, was bitten by a horse while walking through a barn at Calder Race Course to see a friend’s horse that was stabled at the track. Germer sued the horse’s owner and the stable, alleging they were negligent in allowing the horse to bite Germer. The defendants countered that Florida Statute Chapter 773 shielded them from liability. The case turned on a particular provision in the statute that shields defendants from liability if the victim was engaged in an “organized event or activity.” In this case, the Court determined that the defendants were immune from liability under Florida Statute Chapter 773 because the stable required Germer, a former jockey, to obtain a guest pass in order to access to the stable area. Thus, the stable’s security protocol constituted an “organized event or activity” and shielded the defendants from liability. In this case, Germer had signed a document containing the warning notice, thus this was not an issue in the case. However, the Court noted that, “[i]n order for an equine facility to avail itself of section 773.02’s exculpation, the Act requires the posting of the following warning notice:
Under Florida law, an equine activity sponsor or equine professional is not liable for an injury to, or the death of, a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.”
If Germer had not signed a document containing the required warning notice, the outcome likely would have been much different.
In McGraw v. R&R Investments, 877 So. 2d 886 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004), the appellate Court ruled that a horse owner was not shielded from liability by Florida's Equine Activities Liability Act because the horse owner failed to post the necessary warning notice. Thus, the horse owner was liable for the injuries sustained by the trainer who was thrown by the owner's horse.
The take home message is clear: in order to avail oneself of the protections of the Equine Activities Liability Act, one must either post signs or have the participant sign a document containing the warning. I advise my clients to do both. Written releases are valuable, as they can broaden the immunity from liability and provide protections that the Act alone does not. If you don’t already have a release or would like to have your current release reviewed, contact my office and I will be happy to assist you.
Horse owners in Palm Beach County should be on the lookout for contaminated hay. Over the past week, a number of horses have fallen ill or have died after consuming hay suspected to be contaminated with hoary alyssum, a weed that is toxic to horses. Information and photos of the weed can be found here. If you suspect your horse(s) may have consumed contaminated hay, contact your veterinarian immediately.
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