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Legislature’s Taking of Civil Filing Fee Portion not Unconstitutional Tax

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that legislation that requires portions of civil action filing fees deposited into the state’s general revenue fund does not constitute an unconstitutional tax on litigants. It also found the statutes at issue do not conflict with the state constitution, for there was no evidence in the record to show the courts were underfunded.

The matter was before the Court following the trial court’s grant of summary judgment that declared the provisions of sections 28.42(1)(a), 28.24(2)(d), 28.241(2), 34.041(1)(b), and 28.2455, of Florida statutes (2009) are unconstitutional and void. “The legislature is simply taxing one group of citizens and spending money on unrelated governmental activities, which is illegal and unconstitutional,” wrote the trial court in finding the requirement illegal that the first $80.00 of civil action filings be sent to the general revenue fund.

In rejecting that ruling the Supreme Court held that “statutory filing fee is not considered an unconstitutional tax repugnant of court access if the fee is used to fund the costs of the administration of justice. There is no requirement in the Florida Constitution that the very money is paid for filing fees be used to fund the administration of justice. Money is fungible.”

Once the filing fees hit the general revenue funds, they become interchangeable with other state money, so long as the legislature puts at least an equal amount back into the administration of justice, it can comingle the money, the Court said.

In 2008, the legislature appropriated at least $50 million of the amount generated from the increased civil filing fees to the Department of Corrections for prison operations, which could comprise an as applied challenge. It failed, the court said, because while $186,961,960.23 of civil filing fees went into general revenue, the legislature appropriated over $433 million that same year for the judicial branch alone. Thus, the statutes do not constitute an unconstitutional tax.

The Supreme Court also rejected the trial court’s finding the statutes “deny the citizens of this state the right to have their courts adequately funded, in violation of Article V, Section 14, and the due process, equal protection, [and] right to jury trial guarantees.” To prove that point, “[t]he trial judge simply took judicial notice of underfunding based upon the fact that he had recently received a two-percent reduction in his salary.”

The Supreme Court said it “has stated that Florida’s court system is operationally underfunded,” yet it has “not determined that the judiciary is underfunded to the point of it being a violation of the constitution.” The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint. See: Crist v. Ervin, 56 So.3d 745 (Fla. 2010).

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Related legal case

Crist v. Ervin