TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Health is fighting an administrative law judge’s order that it pay $50,000 in attorney fees to a company that successfully challenged a rule related to medical-marijuana licenses.
The department filed a notice Friday that it is taking the fee dispute to the 1st District Court of Appeal, according to websites of the appeals court and the state Division of Administrative Hearings. As is common, the notice does not detail arguments the department will make.
The appeal stems from an order issued Dec. 5 by Administrative Law Judge Garnett Chisenhall, who said the department should pay $50,000 in attorney fees and $3,828 in costs to Louis Del Favero Orchids, Inc.
The decision came more than a year after another administrative law judge, R. Bruce McKibbon, said the department did not property carry out a 2017 state law that gave preference to the citrus industry for as many as two medical-marijuana marijuana licenses.
McKibben ruled in favor of Louis Del Favero Orchids, which bought a citrus-processing facility in Safety Harbor with plans to convert it to a marijuana-processing facility if awarded a pot license.
The 2017 law directed the department to give preference for up to two licenses to applicants that “own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”
The department proposed a detailed rule for carrying out the law but drew a challenge from Louis Del Favero Orchids. The company, argued, in part, that the proposed rule improperly referred to “property” that had been used for processing citrus.
The department’s use of the word “property” instead of “facilities” would expand the citrus preference to “a broader group of applicants than the statute permits,” attorneys for the orchid grower argued.
McKibben agreed with the grower’s arguments, finding that the department’s proposed rule was an “invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.” That led to this month’s ruling in which Chisenhall ordered the department to pay the legal fees.