James and Melanie Nipper appealed an order permanently enjoining them from operating a skydiving business on their 290–acre farm in Walton County. In 2015, the County initiated a code enforcement action before the Walton County Code Enforcement Board (“CEB”). After holding a hearing, the CEB rejected the County’s position and concluded that the Nippers’ business did not violate the County’s zoning code, and Walton County did not appeal. After the Nippers won the zoning enforcement case initiated by Walton County before the county code enforcement board, the County sought and received a permanent injunction in circuit court to halt the business, and the Nippers appealed.
At the outset, the court noted that the parties fully debated the Nippers’ case and their interpretations of the zoning code related to the commercial skydiving operation at the Nippers’ property the 2015 CEB hearing. The County failed to prove the alleged zoning violation before the CEB, which decided that the Nippers’ operation didn’t violate the code. As such, the Nippers’ victory before the CEB undermined the County’s claim of a “clear legal right” to enjoin the Nippers’ business. Moreover, the text of the zoning code did not clearly prohibit skydiving. Instead, Walton County Comprehensive Plan Policy L–1.4.1(B)5 allowed the commercial activities on designated Large Scale Agricultural areas of Walton County like the Nippers’ farm, and was silent as to skydiving. The court therefore reversed, as the County did not show a clear legal right to the injunctive relief granted by the circuit court.
Nipper v. Walton County, Florida, 2017 WL 163693 (FL App. 1/17/2017)