Home Class Action Lawsuits Ocala, Florida, illegal fire service fees $79M common fund

Ocala, Florida, illegal fire service fees $79M common fund

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Residents of Ocala, Florida, could benefit from a $79 million common fund resulting from a court ruling that the city charged illegal fire service fees.

The common fund benefits in-city utility customers who paid the city of Ocala’s fire service fee between Feb. 20, 2010, and July 21, 2020. 

Ocala is a city in central Florida near the Ocala National Forest. The city offers a number of utilities, including electricity, fiber internet, sanitation and water. 

While charging customers for these utilities, the city of Ocala allegedly charged illegal fire service fees intended to offset the costs of operating the Ocala fire department. The fees were first charged in 2006, but were repealed in 2009. In 2010, a city ordinance re-established these fees.

Businesses and individuals took legal action against the fees in 2014, arguing the fire service “fees” were actually unlawful taxes. Plaintiffs in the case argued these fees provided a service typically covered by city taxes. By bundling these fees in with water, sewer and electric charges, the city of Ocala allegedly forced customers to pay an unauthorized tax.

Plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit sought refunds for all customers who paid fire service fees to Ocala.

In June 2020, after years of back and forth between plaintiffs and the city, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the fire service fee was an unconstitutional tax. The court ordered Ocala to establish a common fund to refund these fees.

Current and former Ocala residents who paid the fire service fees can now benefit from a $79.3 million common fund. 

The fund provides refunds of over 91% to class members who paid the fees. Exact refunds will vary depending on the amount each class member paid in fire service fees. For example, a class member who paid $1,000 in fees would receive a 91.5972% refund of $915.97. 

The first distribution was sent to class members July 15, 2022. The first distribution was sent automatically to class members whose addresses could be verified by the city.

Those who believe they should have received a check but did not receive one by the end of July can submit a claim form.

Class members who submit a claim and those who cashed their first check may receive a second distribution from uncashed funds. A second round of distributions will be distributed pro rata at a rate of up to 8.4028% of the amount paid in service fees — bringing total possible payments to equal 100% refunds.

Any uncashed fees that remain in the fund after April 30, 2024, will be applied to the city’s fire services general fund.

There was no exclusion or objection deadline included in the common fund. 

The fairness hearing was held May 10, 2022, when the 5th Circuit Court gave the disbursement plan the final approval.

Class members who did not receive a first distribution check can submit a valid claim form by July 1, 2023.

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