Suing a public entity for negligent misrepresentation…let’s just say, is not that easy. Not that easy at all! Putting aside the doctrine of sovereign immunity (the doctrine that the king can do no wrong), a public entity does not have an affirmative duty to necessarily convey accurate information, no matter how fair or unfair this may sound. And, a negligence claim fails without the defendant (in this case, public entity) owing the plaintiff a duty of care.
For example, in City of Dunedin v. Pirate’s Treasure, Inc., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D783a (Fla. 2d DCA 2018), a commercial owner wanted to renovate its property to accommodate a refurbished marina and a new restaurant. The owner met with the city to review its preliminary conceptual site plan. Based on this meeting, the owner prepared a costly site plan to comply with the City’s development code for the restaurant and marina. The City’s engineering department approved the site plan. However, the City then informed the owner that it had concerns with the restaurant’s square footage and parking. The owner and City agreed that the site plan for the marina and restaurant would be separated, as the owner did not want to ruffle any feathers. The City then approved the separate site plan for the marina but told the owner that the site plan approval for the restaurant was terminated as the owner needed to submit a brand-new application and comply with the updated development code. The owner filed suit against the City claiming, among other things, the City made misrepresentations about the site plan approval only to engage in a bait-and-switch tactic where the misrepresentations were made to induce the development of the marina, without the accompanying restaurant.
The City moved to dismiss the negligent misrepresentation claim on sovereign immunity grounds. The trial court denied the City’s motion finding as a matter of law the City was not entitled to sovereign immunity and the City appealed.
Interestingly, the appellate court rejected the City’s sovereign immunity argument but still reversed the trial court’s holding that the City is not liable to the owner for negligent misrepresentation. The court based its reversal on its determination that the City did now owe the owner a duty of care, hence the negligent misrepresentation claim failed as a matter of law.
A duty of care analysis is different from the analysis whether the City is sovereignly immune from the suit. If there is no duty owed, there is no reason to delve into whether sovereign immunity applies. Here, the Court found no duty was owed because the City “does not owe a duty to convey accurate information concerning whether Pirate’s Treasure’s [owner] site plan complied with the City’s development code.” City of Dunedin, supra.
The owner in this case could have been 100% correct. It had assurances from the City and acted on those assurances in devoting the money and time in finalizing its site plan based on the current development code. It then submitted separate plans at the behest of the City (to appease the City) only for the City to approve the marina (the project it wanted) while terminating the site plan for the restaurant (the project it really did not want). But, assuming this is all true, it does not matter because the court found that the City never owed an affirmative duty to the owner to convey accurate information, i.e., in this case, whether the owner’s site plan complied with the development code.
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