[Special to ocalapost.com]
An Ocala business owner, who is also an attorney, filed a lawsuit against the City of Ocala Thursday for both a declaratory judgment and injunctive release on an emergency and permanent basis as a result of the mask ordinance put in place by Ocala city officials.
The lawsuit comes after a national debate began when Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods, in direct response to the Ocala ordinance, banned his employees from wearing masks while on the job. His actions made national news after the Ocala Star-Banner broke the story. And after hearing comments from city council members and citizens — both locally and abroad — the sheriff seemingly made a mockery of the City of Ocala. Many calling his move a “political stunt” due to the fact the story emerged following a conversation Woods had with President Donald Trump.
On August 5, the City of Ocala, in a 4-1 vote, passed an emergency measure to force citizens to wear face masks. On Monday, August 10, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn announced that he had vetoed the ordinance. Then, on Wednesday, August, 12, the Ocala City Council overturned Mayor Kent Guinn’s veto.
Attorney and business owner, Christina D’Amato Miller, wrote in the lawsuit that she is not only a business owner but a private citizen who is “professionally and personally adversely affected by the unlawful passage of Emergency [Mask] Ordinance 2020-47 and the risk of liability and/or punishment that exists for non-compliance.”
There have been more than 14 lawsuits filed in Florida challenging the constitutional validity of ordinances requiring face coverings.
The lawsuit states, “The major distinction [between the other cases] and the case at bar, is that Ocala has not specifically enacted any legislation that actually requires individuals to utilize face coverings. The abject failure of Ocala to draft any meaningful law to remotely achieve its stated objective cannot stand as a matter of law.”
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn made his position clear.
Guinn, said, “The burden falls on the business owner. It will be too hard to enforce.”
In the lawsuit, it states, “Ocala has unlawfully delegated both its powers and its responsibilities, of legislating and enforcing individual citizen’s choices in regards to face mask usage, to private business owners. Rather than entertaining any meaningful attempt to directly legislate the behavior of its citizens, Ocala has inexplicably and entirely without any authority, shifted the burden and responsibility of legislating its policies and policing its citizens to private business owners.”
Perhaps the most important and significant part of the lawsuit, states, “EO 2020-47 is unconstitutional, both facially and as-applied, because it violates the privacy clause of Article 1, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution, which states: ‘Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life.’ The Right to Privacy set forth in the Florida Constitution extends even more protection than the Right to Privacy under the due process clause of the Federal Constitution. In the absence of any lawful mandate, Floridians should be free to make their private healthcare choices free from the unwarranted intrusion of unqualified third parties.”
Guinn also feels that the ordinance will lead to fights and callers will flood 911 phone lines.
“I do not want my law enforcement officers fining people because they do not have on a mask,” said Guinn. “It should be a personal choice.”
The national attention created by Woods following Ocala’s mask mandate has many calling for the sheriff’s resignation while some say they support his decision. As far as the employer-employee relationship within a government agency in regards to employees either being banned or forced to wear a mask with the employee being deprived of personal choice, a higher court would have to get involved.
Miller notes in the lawsuit that she has proven “a substantial likelihood of success” against the City of Ocala.
From the City of Ocala to the sheriff’s office, everyone can agree that the mask debate has created a fierce, divided, and heated debate in Ocala.