1. Nation & World

SCOTUS hears case about Florida-Georgia water dispute, won't hear cases about police shooting, treehouse

The US Supreme Court can be seen from the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. [Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press via TNS]
The US Supreme Court can be seen from the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. [Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press via TNS]
Published Jan. 8, 2018

The Supreme Court Monday heard arguments in one Florida-centric case and declined to hear two others, effectively ending lengthy court battles — and possibly sidestepping key Constitutional questions.

Water battle

The Court agreed to hear the case of Florida v. Georgia, which centers around a decades-old dispute over the freshwater that starts in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains — as well as in a spring just south of the Atlanta airport — and meanders hundreds of miles before finding its way into the Gulf of Mexico via the Apalachicola River.

Each state wants water for growth. So far, Georgia has been the big winner, aided by decisions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that allow it to keep the lion's share of the water. But in Apalachicola, in the middle of Florida's panhandle, leaders say getting a greater share is necessary to allow the place to stay as it is. The fresh water provides the perfect degree of bay salinity required to sustain the seafood industry, they say, and thus a way of life.

Justices Monday appeared to be looking for a way to side with Florida in its complaint that Georgia uses too much water and leaves too little for its southern neighbor.

"Can we agree that a cap [on Georgia's water usage] at the very least would prevent the situation in Florida from getting worse?" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said during the hour-long argument.

The legal fight has been raging for three decades; Florida has spent nearly $57 million in legal fees on the current lawsuit alone. Georgia has spent upward of $40 million and says it is time for the Supreme Court to end the fight.

Disputes between states are called cases of original jurisdiction at the Supreme Court. Having the high court decide the equitable apportionment of natural resources, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, was the alternative to the states taking up arms against each other.

Anna Maria Treehouse

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take the case brought by Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, who live on Anna Maria Island on Florida's west coast. The couple built a two-story treehouse on their Holmes Beach property in 2011 after being told they didn't need a permit.

But after an anonymous complaint to the city about the structure, officials investigated and found the couple did need to go through the permitting process.

The couple tried to take the fight to voters but courts stopped them. According to the Bradenton Herald, the Second District Court of Appeal declined to hear the case in 2015.

Police shooting

The Supreme Court declined Monday to take a case involving the 2012 death of Andrew Scott.

Court documents say that on July 15, 2012, a deputy in Florida's Lake County saw and tried to stop a speeding motorcyclist. The deputy lost sight of the motorcycle, but it was later spotted at an apartment complex. When officers knocked on a nearby apartment door around 1:30 a.m., Scott answered holding a gun and was shot. He wasn't the bike's operator.

A Florida judge dismissed the case, ruling that Scott's decision to answer the door holding a gun "led to this tragedy."

Looking for real-time news alerts?

Looking for real-time news alerts?

Subscribe to our free Breaking News newsletter

You’ll receive updates on major issues and events in Tampa Bay and beyond as they happen.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Last March the Court heard a case, County of Los Angeles v. Mendez, with similar implications for the scope of the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Information from the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report.


This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge