TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The legal battle over Florida’s migrant relocation flights to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. is still underway, with the defendants—which include Gov. Ron DeSantis, public safety czar Larry Keefe, and Vertol Systems owner James Montgomerie—filing motions to dismiss the suit.
Separately, state officials and the defendants have filed a motion to move the case from a Massachusetts federal court to Florida, with Perla Huerta of Tampa arguing the current court proceedings lack jurisdiction.
Huerta was the contractor who was paid by Florida to recruit migrants to travel from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, with a brief stop in Florida.
Huerta and Keefe were added to the class action lawsuit as defendants, along with Montgomerie, in November 2022. Vertol, owned by Montgomerie, was used to transport nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Massachusetts last September using taxpayer dollars. The governor has defended the program on multiple occasions, saying it was necessary to push policy reforms and handle an immigration and border security crisis.
The governor and state lawmakers moved to change the program, repealing the version passed into law for Florida in 2022 and revamping it with a bill from February’s special session.
The plaintiffs and the attorneys representing them have reportedly received death threats after filing the suit.
Montgomerie requested the lawsuit be tossed due to what his attorneys call a failure to state a claim by the plaintiffs. They have requested oral arguments on the motion.
Separately, Huerta filed to dismiss the plaintiffs’ lawsuit on the grounds that the venue for the court battle is out of the proper jurisdiction, in addition to more direct personal claims. Huerta’s court filing says the lawsuit lacks standing because Huerta “is not a state actor or is protected by qualified immunity.” Her filing also alleges the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs have not alleged a constitutional harm or made another legal claim.
A third motion to dismiss the lawsuit was filed by state officials in their capacities of office. The motion argues that the passage of the new migrant relocation program in the February special legislative session makes the lawsuit invalid because the previous program no longer exists.
Specifically, Senate Bill 6B from the special session repealed the program and created a new one. While the purpose of the new version of the bill is effectively the same, it changes the appropriations for state funds and moves the program under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Emergency Management. The previous program was operated through the Florida Department of Transportation, whose secretary is a named defendant in the class action lawsuit.
Additionally, the officials named as defendants argue that the plaintiffs lack standing on all claims, saying that they have not shown injury traceable to the conduct of the defendants, nor that it can be redressed by the requested outcome in court.
The plaintiffs are asking that the relocation program be prevented from being enacted, with state officials saying the migrants nor their attorneys can prove future implementation will be harmed in the future.
“Plaintiffs do not plausibly allege an injury redressable by prospective relief for any of the named plaintiffs,” according to the state’s filing. “An allegation of future injury may suffice if the threatened injury is ‘certainly impending,’ or there is a ‘substantial risk’ that the harm will occur.”
Florida’s officials also argued in court filings that there is no substantial risk of the plaintiffs being transported again, therefore they cannot argue they will be further injured.
“Given their knowledge of the program and this very lawsuit, it would be bizarre for Plaintiffs to suggest that Florida may transport them again,” the court file says. “Plaintiffs instead allege only past injury.”
Additionally, the state pushed back on the claim that the overall lawsuit is on behalf of migrants as a group, and therefore lacks standing for legal injury to be claimed.
The federal court has not yet ruled on the various motions to dismiss.