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(This story, in slightly different form, originally appeared in the Daily Business Review.)

MIAMI-A federal judge on Wednesday blocked key parts Miami-Dade County’sconstruction crane-safety ordinance after temporarily putting the measure, which was originally passed in March 2008, on hold last May. In another victory for construction industry opponents of the Miami-Dadeordinance, US District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled that parts of theordinance illegally pre-empted federal regulations enforced by theOccupational Health and Safety Administration. The judge permanentlyenjoined enforcement of the wind-load standard in the county ordinance,which had been approved by commissioners last March.

Miami-Dade commissioners approved the crane-safety ordinance in the wake ofa series of fatal crane accidents at local construction sites. Daily finesfor non-compliance would have started at $1,000, rise to $2,500 after 15days, and $5,000 after 30 days. The ordinance also empowered the county toshut down crane operators for violations.

The Associated Builders and Contractors, the Associated General Contractors,the Construction Association of South Florida and the Florida Crane OwnersCouncil had sought the permanent injunction. “The court’s decision was a victory for the entire construction industry and the South Florida economy,” says construction attorney Brian Wolf of SmithCurrie & Hancock. Wolf, a partner in the firm’s Fort Lauderdale office,represented the plaintiffs.

“Because the court entered a permanent injunction, cranes can be used in themanner that they were designed and in a manner that is safer forconstruction workers and the general public,” Wolf reports. “It is a victoryfor the economy because the ordinance would have prevented workers fromcompleting projects. No cranes in existence could have met the artificialstandards imposed by the crane ordinance.”

Miami-Dade attorneys will decide whether to appeal Ungaro’s ruling to the11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, assistant county attorney EduardoGonzalez says. The county had appealed the preliminary injunction whenUngaro granted it in May, but that appeal became moot with the permanentinjunction. Attorneys for the crane industry had filed a motion for summaryjudgment and the permanent injunction in late October, and the countyresponded with a cross motion for summary judgment and dissolution of thetemporary injunction.

The county is still assessing its strategic options and appellate rights,Gonzalez says. Ungaro’s ruling “was not a surprising development given the previous order,”he says. “We have been complying with the preliminary injunction” since itwas issued.

Ungaro did uphold portions of the ordinance dealing with hoisting equipmentstandards and hurricane preparedness. The plaintiffs had not challengedthose portions of the ordinance. “We believe that the court’s decision is extremely well-reasoned and thatthe 11th Circuit will uphold the court’s decision” if the county governmentappeals, Wolf says.

Eric Kalis can be reached at [email protected]

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