Fla. residents file $3M lawsuit over EMS assessment

A class-action lawsuit claims city officials improperly used funds for an assessment of EMS services instead of fire services


By Brian Ballou
Sun Sentinel

COOPER CITY, Fla. — The city erred in collecting more than $3 million from residents for an assessment for emergency medical services from 2006 to 2009, a class-action lawsuit alleges.

And the residents want their money back.

The lawsuit is seeking to do just that. First filed in 2011, the lawsuit went though an appeal process of almost two years before a Broward circuit judge ruled in favor of the residents, allowing the claim to proceed. A hearing is set for July 7.

The lawsuit is based upon rulings in similar cases in Florida, specifically one in 2003 in which a judge decided that a special assessment to fund emergency medical services was unconstitutional.

The city passed an ordinance in 1999 which authorized an annual assessment of fire-rescue services. The lawsuit alleges the city used the assessment to fund emergency medical services.

"Basically, the assessment has to benefit property and not the occupant," said David Frankel, co-counsel for the residents. "Fire assessments benefit property, but an EMS assessment benefits the occupants and that's not proper based upon previous rulings," he said.

Frankel said the City specifically attempted to recoup costs for EMS service, which constituted the vast majority of all emergency calls to fire and EMS services.

But David Wolpin, the attorney representing the city, said the lawsuit is without basis.

"The city's annual fire assessments were properly made, collected and spent to provide excellent fire protection services," he said.

Approximately 10,000 homeowners and business owners are included in the lawsuit. Walter Jolliff, one of three plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, said he was the likely the first resident to bring up the matter before the commission and said he felt as though those officials ignored his concerns.

"Well they didn't listen to me, and one commissioner told me that if I didn't like it that I could sue, so that's what I did," Jolliff said. He added that he paid out approximately $700 over the four year span.

Circuit Judge Marina Garcia-Wood is presiding over the case and while it is possible she could make a ruling on the day of the hearing, she'll likely decide the case at a later date.

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©2015 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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