Lawsuit challenging Wheeler's residency dismissed for lack of jurisdiction

lawsuit challenging wheeler's residency dismissed for lack of jurisdiction

The judge wrote that Garvin may file a new lawsuit within 10 days after the general election.

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A lawsuit filed by Eugene P. Garvin, Sr., against County Commission Candidate Marihelen Wheeler, challenging her residency, was dismissed today “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

Garvin, a registered Democrat, filed the lawsuit to contest Wheeler’s 2022 Primary Election win; the complaint claims that contrary to the statute that says a candidate “must reside in the county and district at the time of election,” Wheeler did not reside in District 2 “and cannot be considered the winner of the August 23, 2022 primary election for the Alachua County Commission District 2 seat.” The lawsuit asked the court to disqualify Wheeler from the November 8 General Election.

In her response to the complaint, Wheeler filed an affidavit stating that her legal residence, which she co-owns with her son, is in District 2. Wheeler stated that she pays for the property taxes and utilities at that property and has listed the property as her homestead. She also stated in the affidavit that she receives mail at all three of her properties, including the home she shares with her son, and that the District 2 address is on her driver’s license and voter registration card.

Wheeler paid back taxes and penalties on May 31, 2022, after a Gainesville Sun investigation found that Wheeler claimed a homestead exemption on a property in District 4 (represented by Commissioner Ken Cornell) while claiming to reside in District 2. At the time, she told the Sun that the homestead exemption on the District 2 property was solely in her son’s name.

Florida Statute 179.131(2) states, “Any person who knowingly and willfully gives false information for the purpose of claiming homestead exemption as provided for in this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by fine not exceeding $5,000, or both.” A first-degree misdemeanor may be punished by up to one year of imprisonment, according to s. 775.082.

Garvin filed an amended complaint in October, adding the Alachua County Canvassing Board as a defendant. On October 21, the attorney for the Canvassing Board filed a Motion to Dismiss, stating that Wheeler has not yet been elected to office and that Florida law does not permit a challenge of the results of a primary election based on residency.

Following yesterday’s hearing, Judge Monica Brasington entered an order today dismissing the case without prejudice. She wrote that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to rule based on residency because the general election has not yet taken place. She also wrote that Garvin may file a new lawsuit within 10 days after the general election.

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