Odebrecht Construction has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida over its new law that bars the awarding of public contracts to firms that have business interests in Cuba or Syria. Widely viewed as a specific target of the new state law, the Coral Gables, Fla.-based contractor asserts that the act is unconstitutional because it conflicts with federal law and attempts to enact foreign policy.

Image courtesy Fla. Dept. of Transportation
The new law would prevent Odebrecht Construction from further pursuing the $2.1-billion reconstruction of Interstate 4 through Orlando.

The Brazilian-owned company issued a public statement that read, in part: “The law targets U.S. companies (such as Odebrecht USA) that have foreign affiliates operating in Cuba. We strongly believe that this new Florida law violates the United States Constitution.”

The Odebrecht suit names state transportation secretary Ananth Prasad as defendant. According to Odebrecht’s legal filings to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the new law would prevent the firm from winning any future contracts with the Florida Dept. of Transportation. The contractor further states that it currently is pursuing future FDOT contracts valued at more than $3.4 billion, including the $2.1-billion reconstruction of Interstate 4 through Orlando and an $870-million Interstate 75 managed-lanes project in Miami-Dade County.

Odebrecht’s statement addressed targeting FDOT with its suit. “Though we certainly would prefer to never litigate against any public agency—particularly one with which we have worked so successfully in the past—Odebrecht USA filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Florida Dept. of Transportation simply to defend our right to serve the state of Florida and its local governments,” it read.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the law into effect during a May Day ceremony in Miami. Nearly simultaneously, the governor also quietly issued a signing statement that indicated the law would not be enforced, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Crosby v. National Federal Trade Council. That case involved a Massachusetts law that barred agencies from buying goods or services from firms with business in Burma, also known as Myanmar. In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court cited the constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which holds that federal law supercedes state legislation.

Once promoters of the anti-Cuba law learned of the signing statement, however, a political backlash ensued, and the next day Scott backtracked and stated that Florida would, in fact, enforce the law.

In reaction to the lawsuit, agency spokesman Dick Kane stated, “FDOT intends to vigorously defend against the lawsuit.”

In ENR Southeast’s most recent Top Contractors survey, Odebrecht reported $122.7 million in 2011 revenue from Florida projects. The lawsuit reports the firm’s overall 2011 revenue at just under $214.6 million.

In addition to seeking to have the courts declare the law unconstitutional, Odebrecht is asking the Miami federal court to issue an injunction and prevent the measure from going into effect on July 1.


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