Judge throws out Gainesville’s GRU lawsuit

GRU gate at the John R. Kelly Generating Station in Gainesville.
GRU gate at the John R. Kelly Generating Station in Gainesville.
Photo by Camille Broadway

A Leon County judge on Friday threw out Gainesville’s lawsuit attempting to stop a new authority from taking control of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) on Oct. 1, finding that the defendants in the claim were entitled to a judgment in their favor on each and every count set forth by the city in its lawsuit.  

Judge Angela C. Dempsey, a Gov. Jeb Bush appointee, rejected the city’s constitutional arguments and ruled that the defendants—Attorney General Ashley Moody, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Cord Byrd—were not the proper people to sue.

“Plaintiff does not cite a single authority for its claim that the Governor “manages” or supervises the Authority,” Dempsey wrote in her 29-page opinion. “Rather, the Act says just the opposite.”

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Gainesville’s lawsuit challenged the state process and constitutionality of House Bill 1645, which DeSantis signed into law on June 28. The bill takes away operational control of GRU from the City Commission and gives it to an Authority appointed by the governor.

State Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, who sponsored the bill, called Friday a great day for GRU ratepayers and employees.

“It is my sincere hope that this clear and concise order issued by Judge Dempsey once and for all lays to rest the campaign of false narratives launched by detractors of this critical legislation,” Clemons said in a statement. “Throughout, it has been my unwavering commitment to return GRU back to its founding principles of providing the best and most affordable power to its customers. It was the pleas of those very customers who were the catalyst for this change in governance and this court order is a strong message for all stakeholders to put aside any differences and work towards building a strong utility.”

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward pledged to do just that.

“Obviously I would have preferred a different outcome, but I respect our judicial and legislative processes, and the result of those processes,” Ward said in a statement. “I’m reaching out to the appointed authority members and stand ready to assist them in their new capacities. I’ll be there to swear them in at their first meeting.”

DeSantis announced on Tuesday three of the five GRU Authority members that will assume operational control of the utility on Oct. 1. Once seated, the Authority, comprised of five Alachua County residents, will manage all aspects of the city of Gainesville’s utilities.  

HB 1645 places GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham under the Authority’s purview. The Authority will also set rates, issue bonds and chart future energy plans for more than 93,000 GRU customers. 

The City Commission approved the use of an initial quarter of a million dollars in June to hire the national law firm Akerman LLP to represent Gainesville to defeat the bill’s implementation.

On Sept. 14, the City Commission voted to continue funding its legal action against the state of Florida by allocating another $250,000 to the effort. 

Gainesville residents also formed the nonprofit Gainesville Residents United and sued the state of Florida in federal court over the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority. The state has filed a dismissal in that case on procedural grounds. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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Jeff Gehmann

This shows it is obvious the CoG will waste taxpayer funds anytime/anywhere if their pea-brain inexperienced self thinks it is “the right thing to do.” This should be the last straw. Having Ward swear them in is another idiotic idea that should be refused. Enough is enough, let it go!


Harvey Ward should resign. Wasted money bogus lawsuit. Our elected government is classless and foolish and harmful to our city


So many questions…
If it turns out that the wrong people were being sued, who was it that decided to sue those wrong people? And did those people who made that decision actually have the authority to waste so much money going off in the wrong direction? Did the city commission investigate whether it was a good idea suing those particular defendants? Did the commission not request any legal advice before spending all that money on something that was evidently so frivolous? The city commission and mayor seem to have no problem at all spending Other People’s Money. Aren’t they supposed to be limited by some kind of fiduciary duty? A duty they certainly appear to ignore.


Quoting non-lawyers about constitutional litigation is dangerous as well as foolish. The Akerman law firm, the largest in the state, is laughing all the way to the bank as it fights what the lawyers have to know is a losing battle by a city or group of taxpayers/customers against the State. Cities unlike counties are creatures of the state, whose very existence can be snuffed out legally. The federal case, certainly in a Republican atmosphere, has no more chance of gaining relief for the same reason. Making this lawsuit particularly onerous is the fact that the City has a problem with control of GRU because 40% of the customers who live outside of Gainesville have no say at all. Gainesville has become little more than a puffery entity bolstered by local media, by reports like this and worse in the Sun and on TV. Of course, my criticism of both this would-be competitor and the overriding Gainesville Sun/SWUFT-TV/ and Channel 20 assure its non-publication.