(Editor’s note: This story was updated on Friday, July 24 after plaintiff Joseph Bracciale provided Keys Weekly with confirmation of a homestead exemption for his Riviera Drive home, classfying it as his primary residence. The Monroe County Property Appraiser’s online record for the property has not been updated to reflect the exemption, but Bracciale provided us with a copy of the approval letter.)

A Florida state representative, who is also an attorney, on July 20 sued the City of Key West on behalf of a client, claiming the city’s face-mask mandate is unconstitutional, subject to arbitrary enforcement and improperly enacted by the mayor and city manager, without the authority of the elected City Commission.

The following evening, the full Key West city commission upgraded its mask requirements from a directive to an ordinance. The commission also approved an exception to the mandate for people with chronic medical conditions, but the lawsuit continues.

Anthony Sabatini is a state representative and an attorney who has filed 11 suits challenging mask mandates in Florida cities and counties. FLORIDA HOUSE/Contributed

State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, 31, a Republican lawmaker for Lake County, outside Orlando, is representing plaintiff Joseph Bracciale in the Key West suit. Sabatini has filed 10 similar suits on behalf of clients, challenging mask mandates enacted by various Florida counties and cities in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Bracciale, the Key West plaintiff, owns a real estate business, Select Properties of the Florida Keys, Inc., on Cudjoe Key.  He also owns properties and businesses in Northwest Florida, according to Florida Department of State business records.

Monroe County property records show that Joseph Bracciale Jr. owns a non-homesteaded house on Riviera Drive in Key West since 2018. But Bracciale on July 24, provided Keys Weekly with a May 1 approval letter from the property appraiser’s office granting a homestead exemption that classifies the property as Bracciale’s primary residence.

“The property appraiser’s website hasn’t been updated yet, but we moved here full-time three years ago and got a homestead exemption for 2020,” Bracciale told Keys Weekly on Friday, July 24. “My goal with the lawsuit was simple: to make sure the proper legal procedure was followed, to allow for medical exceptions for those who have real medical issues, and for our mask ordinance to be more in line with the rest of the state.

“I have never filed a lawsuit before, but felt it was needed in this case,” he added. “I did want to thank the mayor and commission for at least making an effort in the medical exception issue, but am sorry it took a lawsuit to do it.”

The lawsuit was filed in response to Key West’s amended Directive 2020-13, enacted on July 13, requiring everyone older than 6 to wear a mask when not inside their residence. The suit states that Bracciale suffers from asthma, and is therefore medically unable to wear a face mask.

A recent lawsuit claims Key West Mayor Teri Johnston does not have legal authority to enact the city’s mask mandate. CITY OF KEY WEST/Contributed

“The citizens of Key West are burdened by the over-reach of their local government that is unprecedented in Florida history and without clear legal authority,” Sabatini writes in the lawsuit. “The mask requirement violates both the plaintiff’s and the public’s fundamental Florida Constitutional rights. It unduly burdens 24,000 Key West residents and employees. Additionally, Directive 2020-13 is written so vaguely that it lends itself to arbitrary enforcement at an officer’s discretion” and violations can “be punished with enormous and arbitrary discretion.”

Finally, Sabatini claims the mayor has “no legal authority to issue ‘Directives’ that have the force of law. The city’s charter states that all legislative power is vested in the City Commission. Therefore … the emergency directive is not enforceable.”

What they want

Bracciale is not seeking any financial relief. The lawsuit asks a judge to: stop the city from enforcing its directive; declare the mandate unconstitutional, unauthorized, null and void; and require a response from the city.

Key West City Attorney Shawn Smith does not comment on pending litigation.

The case has been assigned to Judge Bonnie Helms, but no hearings had been scheduled as of July 20.

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