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Court OKs ruling blocking Fla. Cuba contracts law

MIAMI (AP) -- A federal appeals court agreed Monday on the unconstitutionality of a Florida law banning companies from bidding on government contracts if they also do business in Cuba and Syria.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Miami federal judge's ruling that the law is invalid because it violates the federal government's sole authority to direct U.S. foreign policy. The appeals court also found that Coral Gables-based Odebrecht Construction Inc. would have suffered irreparable harm if the 2012 law was allowed to stand.

The appeals court judges concluded the law "differs dramatically from the federal regime as to the entities covered, the actions triggering sanctions, and the penalties imposed."

Odebrecht is a subsidiary of a Brazilian company that has another unit doing work in Cuba's port of Mariel. Odebrecht sued to block the law, contending it would have cost the firm potentially billions of dollars in government contracts. Since its founding in 1990, Odebrecht has been awarded 35 public contracts in Florida worth about $4 billion, according to the appeals court.

Odebrecht issued a statement Monday saying it was "gratified" by the decision. Odebrecht is a major player in Florida construction projects, including major work at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the American Airlines Arena that is home to the NBA's Miami Heat and the Nassau Sound Bridge in Jacksonville.

The law has been controversial from the start. After signing the legislation, Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement saying that it likely would not survive a legal challenge unless Congress passed a measure and the president signed it to allow states to impose their own sanctions on foreign governments.

The U.S. has for decades had a number of economic sanctions against Cuba's communist government, which is listed along with Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism.

It wasn't immediately clear Monday if state officials would appeal further.