Lawsuit asks court to force Gov. Ron DeSantis to close beaches, issue ‘safer at home’ order

Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an emergency order closing beashes in Broward and Palm Beach counties to prevent spread of COVID-19, but a lawsuit seeks to compel him to act statewide. Shown is a Spring Beach crowd at Clearwater Beach on March 18, 2020. Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

A Santa Rosa Beach attorney has asked a state trial court to order Gov. Ron DeSantis to close Florida’s beaches and issue a statewide “safer-at-home” order to protect Floridians against COVID-19.

The legal complaint filed by Daniel Uhlfelder seeks injunctions that would force the public safety measures throughout the state. Although many counties have already ordered residents to shelter at home, avoid crowds, and closed their beaches, DeSantis has refused to file a statewide order so far.

In his complaint filed Sunday in Leon County  Circuit Court, lawyer Daniel Uhlfelder says DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide beach closure but has only closed beaches in Broward and Palm counties.

His refusal to issue an executive order poses “an existential threat to Floridians,
many of whom are now more likely to contract this lethal disease,” Ulhfelder said.

The complaints notes that at least 26 other states have “urged or ordered their residents to stay home,” as have 13 Florida counties and 21 cities, and that least eight counties have open beaches still.

“DeSantis’s failure to use the emergency powers at his disposal and issue a statewide beach closure order and safer-at-home order is an existential threat to Floridians, many of whom are now more likely to contract this lethal disease than residents of other states,” the complaint argues.

Uhlfelder earlier earned note for his campaign against a 2018 state law that property owners have cited in seeking to close beaches long considered public.

According to the latest data from the Florida Department of Health, nearly 5,000 Florida residents have tested positive for the new coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness.

DeSantis has argued that local officials are best equipped to judge local conditions and that the public would quickly tire of mandatory isolation and begin to flout such restrictions.

He has turned scrutiny, however, on travelers from COVID-19 “hot spots” including the New York City region and Louisiana.

“DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide safer-at-home order, that is, an order which encourages residents to stay at home as much as possible during the continued COVID-19 crisis but which allows for travel outside the home for essential activities and allows for non-essential activities so long as proper [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations, including social distancing, are followed,” the lawsuit argues.

According to the suit, an online petition entitled “Shutdown Florida,” calling for DeSantis to take more action to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has collected over 360,000 signatures so far.