There are a pair of lawsuits pending in federal court against the new FL gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe. However, the government wants to combine the suits and only deal with one case.
Over the last few weeks, there was a flurry of briefing activity at the D.C. Court of Appeals about the two suits. West Flagler Associates and the Monterra MF, LLC are both suing Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland for approving the agreement between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the tribe.
The deal temporarily brought sports betting to the Sunshine State before a federal judge ruled in favor of the West Flagler Associates.
Last November, Judge Dabney Fredrich ruled that the sports betting model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. As a result, the Seminole Tribe was forced to shutter their online betting operation.
The latest activity began with a motion to consolidate the various appeals. In other words, have the D.C. Court of Appeals handle the West Flagler case, the Seminole Tribe’s appeal (which has already been consolidated with the West Flager suit) and the Monterra case as a single lawsuit. The legal team representing the federal government believes that the overlapping issues in the two cases warrant consolidation.
The consolidation of appeals around common issues is usually a routine practice. But this one seems to have hit the skids and the D.C. Court of Appeals issued an order saying it is not clear the District Court ever ruled on Monterra‘s case.
The federal government only wants one suit against FL gaming compact
The federal government filed its motion to consolidate the two remaining cases on Feb. 22. This procedural move would ordinarily not merit coverage beyond a mention.
However, in this case, the motion could raise other important issues.
The federal defendants note that both plaintiffs’ claims were never formally consolidated at the district court level. Despite this, the district court recognized the overlapping issues. As a result, the court resolved both matters in an opinion that was published to both dockets.
But the pair of plaintiffs don’t agree on whether the cases should be consolidated.
Outside of a few standard caveats like reserving the right to file their own briefs, Monterra consented to the consolidation of the cases. West Flagler, on the other hand, opposes the merger. They would prefer instead to have the cases proceed separately, but they do not oppose coordinated schedules.
The Seminole Tribe does not oppose the consolidation.
The Monterra response
The Monterra plaintiffs filed a very short three-page response to the motion to consolidate. They agree that consolidating the cases:
is warranted because this appeal and the other two consolidated appeals are based on the same legal opinion that invalidated a gambling compact (the “Compact”) between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida….
Not in total agreement
While the Monterra plaintiffs acknowledge significant overlap, they also note the two plaintiffs have different interests in resolving the matter.
Notably, West Flagler Associates is a gambling operator. The Havenick family owns West Flagler Associates, which operates a pair of Florida pari-mutuels. Their lawsuit claims the sports betting model laid out in the FL gaming compact violates federal standards.
Monterra, however, is simply a group led by businessmen who oppose gambling expansion. Monterra argues the fundamental difference in ownership is why they should file different briefs in a consolidated case.
West Flagler’s take on the motion
West Flagler makes two substantive arguments in its opposition to consolidation.
First, West Flager argued they should be granted full and independent opportunity to brief the case and argue the appeal. Especially since it was their case where the district court issued the ruling.
The West Flagler plaintiffs cast shade on whether the Monterra appeal is “procedurally and constitutionally proper.” The basis for the claim is that the district court effectively handled both appeals as one but never consolidated the cases.
A party must typically receive a final judgment on their claims to appeal. However, Monterra will lose the ability to appeal if a judge decides the initial case never received a ruling.
Secondly, West Flagler argues that the two appeals are substantially different. By ignoring the differences, merging the two cases would be unjustified and could disadvantage one of the parties.
West Flagler argues that the Monterra plaintiffs have different interests, claims, and arguments. Therefore, a judge should rule on the Monterra case separately.
D.C. Court of Appeals delays a decision
The D.C. Court of Appeals weighed in with an order on March 10. In a surprising twist on its own initiative, the D.C. Court of appeals suspended proposed briefing schedules and a hearing on consolidation.
The court gave both the Department of the Interior and the Monterra plaintiffs 30 days to show that the court has jurisdiction over the claims.
The Court of Appeals goes on to state:
While not otherwise limited, the parties are directed to address whether the district court’s November 22, 2021 order in No. 21-cv-02513 should be construed as dismissing plaintiffs-appellees’ claims and, if the order is not so construed, whether it is a final, appealable order.
We will likely see any hearings delayed while this matter plays out in the interim.
How this will affect the suits against the FL gaming compact?
A motion to consolidate similar cases is a relatively routine aspect of federal cases, particularly where there are overlapping parties, and the basis for being in court is related.
The plaintiffs’ interests may differ, but the relief both sets of plaintiffs are seeking does appear to overlap.
A judge could rule Monterra never received a final judgment. In that case, it will head back to the District Court for a ruling. If Monterra loses its case at a district level, it could file an appeal.
However, if the Monterra case goes back to the district court, it is less likely that the two cases consolidate.