Florida DOT seeks to dismiss migrant flight records lawsuit

The Florida Department of Transportation late Wednesday urged a circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the agency and a contractor did not comply with public-records requests about controversial flights of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

The department filed a nine-page motion in Leon County circuit court, arguing it has “never refused to provide” records requested by the Florida Center for Government Accountability.

The open-government group made public-records requests Sept. 21 and Sept. 22, after the DeSantis administration flew about 50 migrants from Texas to Massachusetts.

“In fact, the FDOT already provided the records responsive to the first records request 12 business days after the request was received; but plaintiff, without specifying why, has characterized this response as ‘incomplete and not in good faith,’” the motion to dismiss said.

The state contracted with Vertol Systems Company, Inc., to carry out the migrant flights, which drew national attention and came as Gov. Ron DeSantis regularly criticizes the Biden administration on border policy and the handling of undocumented immigrants. In the first request, the Florida Center for Government Accountability sought documents from the department about any “work plan made or in connection with the contract with Vertol Systems Company relating to the relocation of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard,” the lawsuit said.

In the second request, the group sought any “record in the possession of Vertol Systems Company, Inc. … in connection with the rendition of services performed.” The lawsuit said the department on Oct. 7 provided 11 pages “containing quotes by Vertol for the proposed contract.”

Vertol turned over documents Monday to the department and the plaintiffs, according to the motion to dismiss. The case is assigned to Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey. Another circuit judge, J. Lee Marsh, ruled last week in favor of the Florida Center for Government Accountability in a separate case accusing the governor’s office of not properly providing records about the flights.

The DeSantis administration has filed an appeal. The Sept. 14 flights started in San Antonio, Texas, stopped at an airport in the Northwest Florida community of Crestview and then went to Martha’s Vineyard. The DeSantis administration tapped into $12 million that the Legislature provided to transport undocumented immigrants from Florida — though part of the controversy has centered on the migrant flights originating in Texas.