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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA) – An appeals court Wednesday rejected an attempt by Florida Power & Light to block a class-action lawsuit that alleges the utility did not properly prepare for last year’s Hurricane Irma.

FPL argued, in part, that issues related to whether it complied with a storm-hardening plan need to be determined by the Florida Public Service Commission, rather than in the lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court.

But a panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that the Public Service Commission does not have authority to award damages as sought in the lawsuit.

“Further, the courts are the appropriate forum for determining whether FPL’s alleged past conduct constituted a breach of contract or gross negligence, and the mere fact that such claims may involve questions of whether FPL failed to meet certain standards established by the PSC does not divest the trial court of its jurisdiction, or vest exclusive jurisdiction in the PSC, to resolve such issues,” said the five-page ruling by appeals-court judges Roberto Suarez, Kevin Emas and Ivan Fernandez.

The lawsuit, initially filed last year and amended Feb. 1., alleges that FPL was “grossly unprepared” for Irma and that, as a result, customers suffered damages.

Irma made landfall in September 2017 in Monroe and Collier counties and then barreled through much of the state.

But in a motion to dismiss the case filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court, FPL disputed the allegations and contended that issues about its storm-preparation and restoration efforts should go before the Public Service Commission.

“The duties that plaintiffs allege all arose, if anywhere, exclusively out of the requirements of a (state rule that deals with storm-hardening plans),” the FPL motion said.

“All of FPL’s storm hardening and restoration initiatives were undertaken in compliance with that rule… Accordingly, any failures of FPL to comply with the rule or any failures in its implementation of projects pursuant to the rule are to be resolved by the PSC, in accordance with the rule.”

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