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Brothers may appeal to Supreme Court

The lawyer for Peter and Nick Geraci says the government has denied them the use of their property and they likely will ask the high court to review their case.

By BILL COATS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


LUTZ -- Ranchers Peter and Nick Geraci are taking their beef over a thwarted shopping mall to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That's their likely reaction to the latest legal setback over efforts to build a mall at N Dale Mabry Highway and Lutz-Lake Fern Road, said John Lund, the Geraci brothers' general counsel.

"The county has denied them the use of their property," Lund said. "They can't sell the property. They can't use the property for development without a (development approval) and a rezoning."

The Geracis, who inherited a square mile of land at the intersection, began planning a mall there at least 15 years ago. The Hillsborough County Commission endorsed the concept in 1989. But in 1994, a subsequent commission refused the Geracis' rezoning requests, provoking a battery of legal actions against the county and state.

Today, only one suit is alive, and barely so. It is a federal court lawsuit alleging that the government denied the Geracis a constitutionally protected right to use their land and therefore is liable for damages.

A judge dismissed the suit two years ago on the threshold of a 20-day trial. In May, the dismissal was upheld by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week, the same court denied the Geracis' request for a rehearing.

Lund argued the appeals court failed to follow a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a judgment against the city government of Monterey, Calif., for violating a developer's property rights.

In the Lutz case, "If they accept certiorari, then they'll confirm their prior decision on property rights," Lund predicted.

But the Supreme Court rarely grants such review. Of 7,000 cases appealed in a typical year, it generally refuses to consider all but about 150.

David Jordan, deputy general counsel for the Florida Department of Community Affairs, was one of the lawyers who opposed the Geracis in the Atlanta appeal. He said the judges there rejected the arguments about the California case.

But Jordan said he wasn't too surprised to hear about the Geracis' next appeal.

"They've been very litigious even though they've lost every step of the way."

- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469 or coats@sptimes.com.

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