Parisi v. Broward County

Decision Date14 July 2000
Docket NumberNo. SC93240.,SC93240.
Citation769 So.2d 359
CourtFlorida Supreme Court
PartiesSam PARISI and Sam Parisi d/b/a Sam's Recycling, Inc., Petitioners, v. BROWARD COUNTY, Respondent.

Paul R. Regensdorf of Akerman, Senterfitt & Eidson, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for Petitioners.

Edward A. Dion, County Attorney for Broward County, and Andrew J. Meyers, Chief Appellate Counsel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Sharon L. Cruz, Interim County Attorney, Anthony C. Musto, Chief Appellate Counsel, and Tamara M. Scrudders, Assistant County Attorney, Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Noel M. Pfeffer, Interim County Attorney, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for Respondents.

PARIENTE, J.

We have for review Parisi v. Broward County, 710 So.2d 981 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997), based on express and direct conflict with this Court's opinion in Johnson v. Bednar, 573 So.2d 822 (Fla.1991). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const.

FACTS

The present controversy evolved from Broward County's (the County) counterclaim for injunctive relief to prevent the petitioners, Sam Parisi and Sam Parisi d/b/a Sam's Recycling, Inc., from engaging in operations at their auto salvage yard (the Yard) that endangered the environment.1 The trial court entered an order granting the County's request for injunctive relief and enjoined the petitioners from engaging in operations at the Yard causing the discharge of hazardous materials, as well as requiring the construction of additional secondary containment at the Yard.

The County subsequently moved to hold the petitioners in civil contempt for failing to comply with previous orders enjoining environmental hazards. At the conclusion of the hearing, the County stated that "[w]e're asking this court to exercise its power under the law and levy civil contempt fines. We would like those contempt fines secured by a bond." (Emphasis supplied.)

The trial court adjudged the petitioners in civil contempt and ordered the petitioners to post a "bonded fine" as a contempt sanction to secure performance of certain remedial measures on the property. See Parisi, 710 So.2d at 981. The contempt order required the petitioners to either post a bond or place funds in escrow pending their compliance with the court's orders to remediate contamination at the Yard.2 The contempt order provided that the bonded fines would carry over "from year to year" until both the active remediation of the property and the monitoring phase concluded. The contempt order further provided that if petitioners failed to comply with the orders to remediate the property, the funds would revert to the County and petitioners' business could be shut down.

Petitioners argue that the trial court's order was deficient because it did not consider their financial resources to post the bond before imposing the contempt sanction. The Fourth District rejected this argument, finding that all that was required was that the trial court make a finding "that the contemnor had the ability to comply with the underlying order that required some type of action." Id. Accordingly, the Fourth District concluded that the contemnors'"ability to post the bond would become relevant in a motion for contempt for the failure to post it, where the county seeks the imposition of a fine under Johnson or of a purgeable jail sentence." Id.

On rehearing, Judge Warner dissented, concluding that the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258, 304, 67 S.Ct. 677, 91 L.Ed. 884 (1947), requires that:

[A] court which has returned a conviction for contempt must, in fixing the amount of a fine to be imposed as a punishment or as a means of securing future compliance, consider the amount of defendant's financial resources and the consequent seriousness of the burden to that particular defendant.

Parisi, 710 So.2d at 982 (quoting United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. at 304, 67 S.Ct. 677) (emphasis supplied). Judge Warner concluded that under this precedent, before imposing a civil contempt fine, including the "bonded fine" imposed here, the trial court must consider the financial resources of the contemnor. See id.

The core issue to resolve in this case is whether the "bonded fine" imposed is a valid civil contempt sanction. The County asserts that because the trial court did not impose a fine, but instead imposed a "bonded fine," there was no need to comply with the requirements applicable to contempt sanctions, including an inquiry into the financial resources of the contemnor. Alternatively, the County asserts that this "bonded fine" was a compensatory contempt sanction for which the financial resources of the contemnor do not need to be considered.

ANALYSIS

In exploring whether the imposition of a "bonded fine" constitutes a valid contempt sanction without consideration of the financial resources of the petitioners, we begin our analysis with a review the of the contours of contempt jurisprudence. "It has long been recognized that courts have the authority to enforce a judgment by the exercise of their contempt powers." Johnson, 573 So.2d at 824. The courts are granted this contempt authority because: "The interests of orderly government demand that respect and compliance be given to orders issued by courts possessed of jurisdiction of persons and subject matter." United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. at 303, 67 S.Ct. 677. Broad, discretionary contempt powers provide the courts with the "power to impose silence, respect, and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates." International Union, United Mine Workers v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 831, 114 S.Ct. 2552, 129 L.Ed.2d 642 (1994) (quoting Anderson v. Dunn, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 204, 227, 5 L.Ed. 242 (1821)). As this Court recognized in Johnson:

"[W]ithout authority to act promptly and independently the courts could not administer public justice or enforce the rights of private litigants." It is essential that our courts have the judicial power to enforce their orders; otherwise, judgments are only advisory. If a party can make oneself a judge of the validity of orders issued by trial courts, and by one's own act of disobedience set them aside, then our courts are devoid of power, and the judicial power, both federal and state, would be a mockery.

573 So.2d at 822 (quoting Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 450, 31 S.Ct. 492, 55 L.Ed. 797 (1911)) (citations omitted).

While the inherent contempt power of a single judge is a bulwark of our legal system, the United States Supreme Court has also recognized that contempt power "uniquely is `liable to abuse.'" Bagwell, 512 U.S. at 831, 114 S.Ct. 2552. This is because in the area of civil contempt proceedings, "the offended judge [is] solely responsible for identifying, prosecuting, adjudicating, and sanctioning the contumacious conduct." Id. Thus, a balance must be struck between the recognition that courts are vested with contempt powers to vindicate their authority and the necessity of preventing abuse of these broad contempt powers. See id. at 831-32, 114 S.Ct. 2552.

Contempt sanctions are broadly categorized as criminal or civil contempt. Civil contempt sanctions are further classified as either compensatory or coercive sanctions. See Johnson, 573 So.2d at 824. The same contemptuous conduct may be the subject of both criminal and civil proceedings.3 The distinction between criminal and civil contempt often turns on the "character and purpose" of the sanctions involved. Bagwell, 512 U.S. at 827,114 S.Ct. 2552 (quoting Gompers, 221 U.S. at 441,31 S.Ct. 492). We have previously explained that "[t]he purpose of criminal contempt ... is to punish. Criminal contempt proceedings are utilized to vindicate the authority of the court or to punish for an intentional violation of an order of the court." Bowen v. Bowen, 471 So.2d 1274, 1277 (Fla.1985). On the other hand, a contempt sanction is considered civil if it "is remedial, and for the benefit of the complainant." Bagwell, 512 U.S. at 827-28,114 S.Ct. 2552 (quoting Gompers, 221 U.S. at 441).

The Supreme Court has also recognized that the stated purpose of a contempt sanction is not determinative of whether a contempt sanction is civil or criminal. See id. Further, regardless of whether a sanction is civil or criminal, "[w]hen a court imposes fines and punishments on a contemnor, it is not only vindicating its legal authority to enter the initial court order, but it also is seeking to give effect to the law's purpose of modifying the contemnor's behavior to conform to the terms required in the order." Id. at 828, 31 S.Ct. 492 (quoting Hicks v. Feiock, 485 U.S. 624, 635, 108 S.Ct. 1423, 99 L.Ed.2d 721 (1988)). In fact, as the Supreme Court recognized in Bagwell, most contempt sanctions "to some extent punish a prior offense as well as coerce an offender's future obedience." Id.4

Notwithstanding the "somewhat elusive" distinction between civil and criminal contempt,5 determining whether the contempt proceedings are civil or criminal is critical to the court and to the parties because the nature of the contempt both determines the procedures for adjudication and sets the parameters for the sanctions that can be imposed. Bagwell, 512 U.S. at 830-31,114 S.Ct. 2552; see also Gregory v. Rice, 727 So.2d 251, 253 (Fla.1999) (quoting In re Amendments to Fla. Family Law Rules of Procedure, 723 So.2d 208, 213 (Fla.1998)). Because criminal contempt is "a crime in the ordinary sense," imposition of criminal contempt sanctions requires that a contemnor be afforded the same constitutional due process protections afforded to criminal defendants. Bagwell, 512 U.S. at 826,114 S.Ct. 2552 (quoting Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 201, 88 S.Ct. 1477, 20 L.Ed.2d 522 (1968)); see, e.g., Gregory, 727 So.2d at 253 (quoting Amendments, 723 So.2d at 213); Bowen, 471 So.2d at 1278. These rights include the right of criminal defendants to be represented by counsel,...

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