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Our Firm

Located convenient to downtown Tallahassee, Florida, Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson, P.A. is well situated to efficiently represent the interests of its clients.  We are located minutes away from the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida Capitol building, Leon County Courthouse, Tallahassee City Hall, Florida State University College of Law, the First District Court of Appeal, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and the offices of Florida's state agencies.

In order to attain our client's goals, we have developed and fostered good working relationships built on trust with many regulatory agencies, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, Florida's five Water Management Districts, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Florida Department of Health, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the Florida Department of Financial Services, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Florida Department of Transportation. 

The attorneys who comprise Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson, P.A. take great pride in providing high-quality representation to all of their clients.  Please visit the other sections of this website for further information on these attorneys and their specialized practice areas.

Our firm is available to assist you with your legal needs in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Please note: Often times, there are specific deadlines associated with the action of an agency or your legal issue, and failure to meet a deadline may adversely affect you or result in a waiver of your rights.

MAIN AREAS OF PRACTICE:

Environmental Law: The firm has extensive experience representing diverse corporate and governmental clients in all types of regulatory and enforcement actions throughout Florida before local, state, and federal agencies, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state’s five water management districts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The firm’s practice includes environmental counseling, enforcement, permitting and litigation under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as state and local environmental programs.  A substantial portion of the firm’s experience involves representation of private industry, land developers, marina developers, chemical manufacturers and mining concerns in areas of air and water pollution, water resources, infrastructure permitting, solid and hazardous waste matters, contaminated site remediation, environmental due diligence, and related real property transaction matters. The firm also counsels local governments in permitting, agency enforcement, and ordinance drafting, including wastewater treatment facility permitting, deep injection well permitting, wastewater permitting, hazardous waste facility operation and closure permitting, and associated civil and appellate litigation. 

Administrative Law: The firm represents corporations, local governments, and individuals in rulemaking proceedings, regulatory investigations and enforcement proceedings, licensing, permitting, and administrative litigation before the Division of Administrative Hearings, federal and state agencies, and regional, county, and local boards and commissions.  The firm includes counsel holding the Florida Bar’s certification in State and Federal Government and Administrative Practice.

Land Use Law: The firm represents the interests of property owners, governmental entities, and individuals before state, regional, and local agencies, and in litigation and administrative proceedings addressing land development and regulation, regulatory relief, comprehensive planning, zoning, growth management, special districts, and use permitting. The firm’s attorneys have served as special counsel to numerous Florida local governments and governmental authorities.

Water Law: The firm has extensive experience representing industrial clients, public and private utilities, and local governments before the U.S. EPA, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the state’s five water management districts in water use permitting, water quality issues, industrial wastewater issues, rulemaking, the establishment of minimum flows and levels, reclaimed water issues, alternative water supply development, aquifer storage and recovery projects, and in civil and administrative litigation over water rights, consumptive use permits, and water quality standards.

Coastal Law: The firm represents landowners, developers, and local governments on numerous coastal construction and regulatory issues, including sovereign submerged lands leasing, coastal development agreements and construction permitting, and mangrove trimming and alteration permitting.

Mining Regulation: The firm represents rock, sand, and mineral mining interests before local, state, and federal governments and agencies in rulemaking, permitting, civil and administrative litigation, regulatory compliance and operations management, and legislative lobbying. 

Wetlands Regulation: The firm has extensive experience in representing landowners, developers, agricultural interests, and local governments in rulemaking, environmental resource permitting, enforcement proceedings, and civil and administrative litigation related to federal, state, and local wetlands regulation, wetlands mitigation, and permitting exemptions.

Utilities Regulation: The firm has significant experience representing clients in utility matters before the Florida Public Service Commission and in state and federal courts, including ratemaking proceedings, territorial disputes, and rulemaking.

Professional Licensing Law: The firm represents individuals and corporations from diverse industries in professional licensing and enforcement proceedings before the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Financial Services, and the Florida Department of Revenue.

Health Care Regulation and Licensing: The firm represents numerous health care entities, drug and cosmetic manufacturers, and health service providers in matters related to regulatory compliance, rulemaking, facility licensing, administrative litigation, and regulatory enforcement proceedings. 

Public Financing of Affordable Housing: The firm represents for-profit and non-profit clients before the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, a public corporation performing the function of a state agency, in competing for state and federal loans, tax credits, and bond allocations to assist in financing the development of affordable rental housing, and in complying with the funding program terms.

Competitive Bidding: The firm has experience assisting business clients with the preparation of competitive bids for public contracts, and represents clients with protests of bid awards.

Appellate Practice: The firm has extensive experience assisting clients with appeals to state and federal courts in matters related to the firm’s core practice areas.

Lobbying:  The firm has significant experience lobbying on clients’ behalf before the Florida Legislature, and the Governor and Cabinet sitting in its various capacities as the Administration Commission, Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, and the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission.

Stop Work Orders for Failure to Obtain Workers’ Compensation Coverage: Our firm has represented private clients whose businesses have been shut down after receiving a Stop Work Order ("SWO”) for failing to obtain workers’ compensation insurance.  The State of Florida has the authority to issue a SWO against any business that operates without securing workers’ compensation insurance for all its employees. Under Chapter 440, Florida Statutes, Section 440.107, Florida Statutes, and Chapter 69L-6, Florida Administrative Code, the Department of Financial Services will issue a SWO when it determines either that the business failed to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance or failed to produce requested business records within 10 days. The SWO may have the legal effect of stopping all business operations at a particular worksite or throughout the entire state. Any business that operates in violation of a SWO may be assessed $1,000 per day, and violation of a SWO may carry criminal penalties, as well.  The financial penalties associated with a SWO may be severe depending on the factual circumstances. In order for the Department to release the SWO and allow the business to recommence operations, the business must agree to pay a penalty, either in a lump sum or in regular intervals. The penalty is two times the amount of workers’ compensation that the business failed to obtain for each worker. Further, if the business does not produce records to the Department, then the Department may "impute” the penalty for up to two years. In other words, if the Department determined that 10 employees did not have workers’ compensation coverage, and the business fails to provide adequate documentation regarding those employees, the Department has the authority to assume that each of the 10 workers has been employed for two years. As such, the penalty would be the amount of workers’ compensation that the business should have paid on those 10 employees over the course of two years, multiplied by two.  The Department’s action must be timely contested by the business, otherwise the business will not be able to protest the SWO or the penalty assessment. If the business fails to timely contest the agency action, the agency may proceed to enter a penalty assessment against the business. If your business is subject to a Stop Work Order, it may be in your best interest to contact our office as soon as possible so that we can discuss a strategy and the steps necessary to protect your business.     

Eminent Domain, Inverse Condemnation, and the Bert Harris Act: Our firm has trial and appellate experience regarding eminent domain cases, including representation of both private and public clients.  Under the Florida and United States constitutions, a landowner’s right to his or her property is protected. Whenever a governmental agency "takes” a landowner’s property for a public purpose, the government must fairly compensate the landowner for the property taken.  Eminent domain (or "condemnation”) is the legal concept where the government institutes a lawsuit in order to "take” a landowner’s property. For instance, when the Florida Department of Transportation seeks to widen a road, it must "take” private property. In order to do so, the Department must file a lawsuit to "take” the property and pay the landowner for the property "taken.” Often, the landowner and governmental agency disagree as to the amount of compensation that is owed.  In an "inverse condemnation,” the lawsuit is filed by the landowner who believes the government has "taken” his or her property without instituting an action or providing compensation. For instance, if a governmental agency denied a building permit or flooded a landowner’s property such that the property was "taken,” then the landowner may institute an "inverse condemnation” lawsuit in order to obtain fair compensation from the governmental agency. When it enacted the Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act, the Florida Legislature recognized that some laws, regulations, and ordinances of the state and political entities in the state may inordinately burden, restrict, or limit private property rights without amounting to a taking under the State Constitution or the United States Constitution.  When a specific action of a governmental entity has inordinately burdened an existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of real property, the property owner of that real property is entitled to relief, which may include compensation for the actual loss to the fair market value of the real property caused by the action of government. Whether a landowner’s property rights have been affected by a governmental action depends on the facts of each case. When such a situation arises, it is important to contact a lawyer to discuss all legal options.

Professional Licensure Applications: Our firm has assisted many individuals in obtaining professional licenses. The State of Florida regulates many different types of business professions, including physicians, pharmacists, general contractors, electrical contractors, and realtors. For any person who seeks to engage in profession regulated by the state, the person must first obtain a license prior to engaging in professional activities.  In order to obtain a license to engage in a regulated profession, a person may have to demonstrate knowledge of the profession through an examination, educational courses, or work experience in the industry. Further, many professions require criminal background checks prior to licensure. Sometimes, the license must be approved by that profession’s governing board, which is usually comprised of other professionals from the particular field.  If your goal is to obtain a professional or business license, it may be in your best interest to consult with our office well before filing an application for licensure.  Each license has specific requirements that must be met before you can obtain the license.  In order to meet these requirements, you make need to make a substantial investment prior to filing the application for licensure.  By engaging us early, we can counsel you on the requirements for licensure and the licensure process in an effort to eliminate unnecessary expenses and limit costly delays in the processing of your application.

Professional Licensure Discipline:  Our firm has assisted many individuals in licensure disciplinary proceedings, including physicians, nurses, general contractors, electrical contractors, and educators. Each regulated profession is subject to disciplinary action for violations of the standards of that particular profession. For instance, under Chapters 456 and 458, Florida Statutes, medical doctors may be disciplined for a number of offenses, including deviating from the standard of care, conducting a procedure on the wrong patient, leaving a foreign body inside of a patient, or for substance abuse. Similarly, under Chapters 455 and 489, Florida Statutes, general contractors may be disciplined for a number of offenses, including abandoning a jobsite, operating without a qualifying agent 60 days following the termination the qualifying agent, and making false representations. Each agency has a list of potential disciplinary sanctions that it may impose, including a monetary penalty or additional education. For serious violations, the agency may seek to suspend or revoke the professional’s license entirely. Generally, the disciplinary process is started when the state agency receives a complaint about a particular licensee. The state agency then has an investigator gather facts about the allegations, including interviews with witnesses and obtaining records. Usually, the agency investigator is required to contact the licensee to discuss the complaint and request a statement, and the licensee is provided a certain number of days to provide a response to the investigation.

After the investigation is complete, the investigator sends the investigative file to the agency’s prosecuting attorney’s office, which will then review the file and recommend to issue an Administrative Complaint or dismiss the case. Regarding most professional licenses, the complaint, investigative file, and proposed Administrative Complaint is sent to a probable cause panel, which is comprised of a few members of the profession’s board. The probable cause panel will also consider any written statement by the licensee, if the licensee has elected to submit a response to the investigation or proposed Administrative Complaint. After reviewing the file, the probable cause panel then determines whether there is "probable cause” to move forward with the Administrative Complaint. If so, the prosecutor will file the Administrative Complaint to seek a disciplinary sanction against the licensee.

Once the licensee is served with the Administrative Complaint, the licensee has an imminent deadline to contest the allegations and seek a formal hearing, or to not contest the allegations and request an informal hearing. If the licensee does not respond at all, the agency may consider the licensee to have "waived” his or her rights, and the agency likely will seek discipline on its own accord and without regard to any later protests by the licensee. Should a licensee choose to dispute the allegations of the Administrative Complaint, the licensee usually has the ability to settle the dispute with mutually agreeable terms. Often, the settlement terms are presented to the professional board for review and final approval.

Should the licensee and agency fail to reach a settlement, the agency will refer the case to the Division of Administrative Hearings ("DOAH”) for an evidentiary hearing, similar to a trial in a court of law. The case will be heard before an impartial Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ”), who presides over the proceedings in the same manner as a trial judge. After the trial concludes, each party may submit a "Proposed Recommended Order,” which summarizes the points of law and fact for the ALJ’s consideration. The ALJ will then issue his or her "Recommended Order,” which will recommend to dismiss the Administrative Complaint or recommend discipline, along with the proposed sanction.

After the ALJ issues his or her Recommended Order, the case goes back before the profession’s board for entry of a Final Order. The board has some authority to change the ALJ’s Recommended Order. In particular, the board may alter the ALJ’s conclusions of law. For instance, due to its expertise in the field of medicine, the Board of Medicine may be able to modify an ALJ’s conclusion about what type of action constitutes "malpractice.” No board, however, may change an ALJ’s findings of fact unless the finding of fact is not supported by any evidence. The board may also modify an ALJ’s proposed sanction under some circumstances.

Should the licensee not dispute the allegations in the Administrative Complaint, the agency will conduct an informal hearing. There, the licensee will be allowed to address the particular board and request leniency by showing mitigating circumstances. The board will then impose the sanction it deems appropriate.

If your license is subject to a disciplinary action by any state agency, it may be in your best interest to contact our office as soon as your learn of the disciplinary action so that we can discuss what steps to take to protect your license.     

Emergency Action Against a Professional License: Our firm has experience regarding the laws and standards associated with emergency orders, including Emergency Suspension Orders, Emergency Restriction Orders, and Stop Work Orders.  Generally, if a regulated person or business presents an immediate threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the state, an agency may enter an Emergency Order against that person or business. The Emergency Order will summarily suspend the practitioner’s license or impose burdensome restrictions on his or her practice. For instance, the Department of Health may issue Emergency Suspension Orders or Emergency Restriction Orders against practitioners who abuse drugs or alcohol, who are over prescribing.

The agency enters the Emergency Order without notice and without a hearing due to the alleged threat posed by the licensee. Once issued, the agency must commence the disciplinary process as soon as possible, which requires a finding of probable cause by the board’s probable cause panel and the filing of an Administrative Complaint. Once the Administrative Complaint is filed, the normal disciplinary process begins. (See section entitled "Professional licensing discipline”) During the pendency of the disciplinary process, the licensee is still under the Emergency Order and must comply with the terms of the Emergency Order until a Final Order is issued.  Prior to and during the pendency of the disciplinary process, the licensee may appeal the Emergency Order to the District Court of Appeal. The District Court reviews the four corners of the Emergency Order to determine whether the Order properly articulates a basis for the order and whether the Emergency Order is narrowly tailored to protect the public.

If your license is subject to an emergency order, it may be in your best interest to contact our office as soon as possible so that we can discuss what steps to take to protect your license.     

Agency Rulemaking: Our firm has experience representing clients in rulemaking proceedings and challenges and has litigated rule challenges against the Department of Environmental Protection, State Water Management Districts, Agency for Health Care Administration, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Construction Industry Licensing Board, State Board of Administration, and Educational Practices Commission.

Rule challenges seek to the challenge an agency’s use of its statutory authority. Through their joint lawmaking authority, the Florida Legislature and Executive Branch enact Florida Statutes to govern the conduct of people and businesses and have created state administrative agencies to implement the statutes and create rules. Examples of state agencies include the Department of Health, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Corrections, and Agency for Health Care Administration.

When adopting a rule, an agency will engage in the rulemaking process and publish notice as to the date, time, and location of public hearings on the proposed rule. After the public hearing, the agency may adopt rules that are consistent with Florida Statutes. However, sometimes agencies adopt rules that conflict with the governing statutes or, in some cases, agencies apply regulations that are not adopted through the rulemaking process. In these cases, individuals, business, or associations that are "substantially affected” by the agency policy may challenge the rule being applied.

Under Chapter 120, Florida Statutes, proposed rules, existing rules, and unadopted rules may be challenged through an evidentiary proceeding at the Division of Administrative Hearings ("DOAH”). Regarding proposed rules, substantially affected parties must file a petition challenging the proposed rule within the particular timeframe established by statute. Should the party fail to timely challenge the proposed rule, the rule becomes effective, and the party may only challenge the existing rule, where the burden of proof is more favorable to the agency.

Once referred to DOAH, the trial is on an accelerated schedule unless waived by the parties. The parties are allowed to present evidence and testimony to the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ”). After the trial is concluded, the parties may submit "Proposed Final Orders,” which summarizes the points of law and fact for the ALJ’s consideration. The ALJ will then issue his or her "Final Order,” determining whether the agency’s rule is valid. Unlike a disciplinary or licensure case, the ALJ’s order does not proceed back to the agency for final disposition.

Local Government Comprehensive Plans: Our firm has experience representing clients in challenging comprehensive plan amendments adopted by local governments. Under Part II of Chapter 163, Florida Statutes, counties and municipalities are required to adopt a comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan is a broad list of goals, objectives, and policies that will govern all aspects of local life, including growth, industry, agriculture, traffic, and environmental regulations. Once the comprehensive plan is adopted, all activities within the subject county or municipality must comply with the governing comprehensive plan. Each aspect of the comprehensive plan must meet certain statutory requirements, as set forth in the Growth Policy Act in Part II of Chapter 163, Florida Statutes.

An "affected person” may file a petition challenging the proposed comprehensive plan amendment. An "affected person” includes a person or business who resides or owns property or a business operating within the local government. Further, in order to challenge, the "affected person,” must have submitted oral or written comments, recommendations, or objections to the local government between the transmittal hearing and the adoption hearing of the plan or plan amendment. The "affected person” may challenge the plan or plan amendment to determine if it is "in compliance” with the Growth Policy Act, which means that the plan or plan amendment must be consistent with the requirements of Sections 163.3177, 163.3178, 163.3180, 163.3191, 163.3245, and 163.3248, Florida Statutes. After the petition is filed, the Division of Administrative Hearings will conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the plan or plan amendments are "in compliance.”

Alcoholic Beverage Law: Our firm has experience regarding the laws and standards associated with the regulation of alcoholic beverages. Chapters 561 through 568 of Florida Statutes, collectively, make up "the Beverage Law.”  The Beverage Law is a comprehensive regulatory scheme that addresses everything from licensure of alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers, to the taxation of alcoholic beverages.  Navigating this maze of regulations can be daunting without the assistance of someone who has knowledge of the process and the law.  The lawyers of Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson, P.A., are well versed in alcoholic beverage law and can assist you in addressing any issues you may face.   

The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco ("DABT”) is the agency responsible for issuing and regulating alcoholic beverage licenses.  DABT can initiate investigations into possible licensure violations upon receipt of a complaint, or through ongoing inspections of licensed premises.  If the DABT believes that a violation of the Beverage Law has occurred, it will file an Administrative Complaint ("AC”) which includes a description of the alleged violation.  Once you receive the AC, you must act quickly to protect your rights.  You have a limited amount of time in which to respond to the AC or you will have waived your right to challenge the allegations.  The failure to respond could result in revocation of your alcoholic beverage license. If your license is subject to a disciplinary action by DABT, it may be in your best interest to contact our office as soon as your learn of the disciplinary action so that we can discuss what steps to take to protect your license.     

Likewise, if your goal is to obtain an alcoholic beverage license, it may be in your best interest to consult with our office well before filing an application for licensure.  Each alcoholic beverage license has specific requirements that must be met before you can obtain the license.  In order to meet these requirements, you make need to make a substantial investment prior to filing the application for licensure.  By engaging us early, we can counsel you on the requirements for licensure and the licensure process in an effort to eliminate unnecessary expenses and limit costly delays in the processing of your application.

Student Disciplinary Proceedings: Our firm has experience representing clients in student disciplinary proceedings.

A student accused of misconduct cannot be dismissed from a public school or university without first being provided with due process.  In the context of student disciplinary proceedings, due process requires that the student be notified of the charges against him or her, that the school provide the student with an explanation of the evidence against the student, and that the student be provided with an opportunity to present his or her side of the story.  While these are the minimal due process requirements afforded to students of public schools and universities, often times the student handbook will provide the student with additional due process.  It is important to look to the student handbook to see determine what additional processes are provided for by the school.  The failure to provide a student with due process is a basis for reversing a school’s decision to impose discipline on a student. 

A student who is charged with academic failure, as opposed to misconduct, is entitled to significantly less due process.  If you believe the school has improperly characterized the student’s alleged actions as academic failure, you should consult with our office as soon as possible determine what options you may have to protect the student’s due process rights.     

 Dismissal from a school or university for academic misconduct can have significant long-lasting effects on a student’s academic and professional careers.  It may be in your best interest to consult with our office as soon as you learn of the alleged misconduct to discuss your legal rights.  

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