In a victory for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Odebrecht Construction, a federal appeals court in Miami has upheld a lower court ruling that Florida's anti-Cuba law is unconstitutional. The law—which the lower court blocked by injunction—banned public agencies in the state of Florida from awarding any contract valued at a minimum of $1 million to any firm with business dealings in Cuba or Syria.

Image courtesy Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc.
Odebrecht Construction, which is vying for the concession contract on the $2-billion Interstate 4 Ultimate project (above), argued in court its business would have been significantly harmed by Florida's anti-Cuba law.

While court records show that the law would have potentially impacted more than 200 companies, it was widely viewed as targeting Odebrecht, and the firm last year sued the state's transportation secretary to prevent its implementation. In court, the Florida Dept. of Transportation argued that Odebrecht had no standing to bring the suit, since it had not bid for a DOT contract in more than a decade. But the court saw it differently, since the law applied to all public agencies, and noted that an estimated 80% of Odebrecht's revenues "over the years have come from public contracts in the state of Florida."

Odebrecht asserted in court that the act, also referred to as the Cuba Amendment, was unconstitutional because it conflicts with federal law and attempts to enact foreign policy.

The court's ruling noted that Odebrecht intends to bid on a $265-million Palmetto Expressway contract, as well as an Interstate-75 project estimated at $870 million. Additionally, Odebrecht is a member of a team pursuing the concession for the $2-billion I-4 Ultimate project in Orlando, which is moving forward as a public-private partnership.

In upholding the injunction, the justices stated: "We have little difficulty concluding that Odebrecht has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on its claim that the Cuba Amendment is preempted by the extensive federal Cuban sanctions regime. The Amendment reaches far beyond the federal law in numerous ways…. In addition, the equities strongly favor a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the Cuba Amendment."

In response to the verdict, the contractor issued the following statement: "Odebrecht USA is very gratified by the court's ruling, and the court's agreement with our legal position. We are extremely proud of our 21-year track record of performance and community involvement in Miami-Dade County and throughout Florida. We will continue to defend our right to serve the State of Florida and its local governments, and remain fully committed to complying with all local, state and federal law."

FDOT officials stated that the state's general counsel was reviewing the ruling.