A Lake County legislator and attorney has filed suit against the City of DeLand over a new law requiring the wearing of masks.
In the midst of a group of anti-mask protesters, attorney Anthony Sabatini announced the legal action at DeLand City Hall July 13.
“Residents are filing suit to repeal the mask mandate and end discriminatory and unlawful government overreach,” Freedom for Florida wrote in its news release, which names two DeLand residents as plaintiffs.
In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the city, the DeLand City Commission passed the mask law in an emergency meeting July 2. It requires mask-wearing inside businesses, and provides for fines of $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second and $100 for a third.
Before fines are levied, a person will be warned and asked to comply or explain how he or she is exempt. Among other exceptions are children younger than 2 and those with medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask.
The ordinance does not include criminal penalties, and citations won’t be issued by DeLand police. Instead, the city’s code-enforcement department will follow up on any complaints about noncompliance, a city spokesman said.
The new rule also requires DeLand businesses to post notices that masks are required for entry.
DeLand’s rule doesn’t apply to medical facilities, governmental facilities and schools, as city staff said such establishments typically have mask rules of their own.
Orange City passed a law like DeLand’s on July 6.
On July 10, ruling in another lawsuit filed by Sabatini, a Tallahassee judge upheld a similar ordinance in Leon County, saying it did not violate any constitutional rights. The plaintiffs have suggested they will appeal, according to Tallahassee-area news-media reports.
Sabatini said one plaintiff in the DeLand case is a truck driver by trade and a military veteran, suing in his privacy capacity as an affected person under the law.
In an interview Tuesday, Sabatini said DeLand’s ordinance and others like it violate the privacy clause of the Florida Constitution.
“Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life except as otherwise provided herein,” reads part of Article I, Section 23 of the state’s constitution.
Sabatini also cited possible violations of due process. He pointed to Miami-Dade County, which continues to have high numbers of new cases despite a mask mandate.
“I think they’re overbroad,” Sabatini said of the ordinances. “They’re very overbroad, because it’s a lot of prescriptive behavior they’re trying to legislate on an activity that’s very loosely related to masks.”
He was undeterred by the Leon County ruling, saying a ruling on the appellate level would be more decisive.
“There’s lots of judges,” he said. “They all look at things a little bit different.”
The DeLand case was filed July 13, Sabatini said, and, typically, as defendant, the city would have 10 days to file a response.
Sabatini has filed nine lawsuits throughout the state, with DeLand’s the only in Volusia County.
In a statement issued by DeLand city spokesman Chris Graham, he said the ordinance was backed by scientific evidence.
“Science supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health and U.S. Surgeon General indicates that wearing a mask combined with social distancing and washing your hands is the most effective way in helping stop the spread of Covid-19,” Graham said. “We understand and respect citizens’ concerns over the mandatory mask ordinance, but the well-being of all citizens outweighs those concerns.”
He also pointed to the Leon County ruling.
“The city stands by its decision made in an effort to protect the public health and well-being of our citizens,” he said.
Graham also said the city would first try to enforce the ordinance by asking for voluntary compliance. Only if that fails would code-enforcement staff issue fines.
However, it seems many DeLandites have come around to wearing masks, according to the city.
“Over the past week to 10 days there are very clear indications that the majority of residents are wearing a mask,” Graham said. “... Code Enforcement staff is following up on a few businesses that do not have the required signage posted on the mask requirement. Additionally, Code Enforcement will follow up in places where substantial compliance is not apparent.”