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Florida Third DCA reverses trial court's judgment for defendant on pleadings, citing contested issue as to whether whistleblower had reported complaints to "appropriate local official"

On September 20, 2017, in Escalona v. City of Miami Beach, No. 3D16-2304, the Florida Third DCA reversed a trial court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendant City in a case brought by a terminated employee under Florida Whistle-blower’s Act section 112.3187, Florida Statutes. The employee claimed that he had been fired in retaliation for his voicing his concerns about a City water line construction project. The trial court’s ruling was based on its determination that the plaintiff had failed to report his complaints in compliance with section 112.3187(6), Florida Statutes, which requires as a precondition to any lawsuit that the whistleblower must first have notified either the City Manager or another “appropriate local official” of the City. While the plaintiff conceded that he had not notified the City Manager, he contended in an amended complaint that he had emailed his fellow engineers in the City’s Public Works Department to express his concerns about safety and environmental issues at the construction site. The Third DCA held that for the City to prevail at this stage of the proceedings, the pleadings would have to establish as a matter of law that none of the three engineers who received the plaintiff’s emailed report was an “appropriate local official” (i.e., one authorized to receive, investigate and process a whistleblower’s complaint) under section 112.3187(6). See Igwe v. City of Miami, 208 So. 3d 150, 153-54 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016); Cummins v. Lake Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs., 671 So. 2d 893, 893 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996); Op. Att’y Gen. 99-07.