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Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hosp Authority

LSHA's Berry Must Comply With Public Records Law: 1st DCA Upholds Lower Court Decision

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – A recent decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision by Judge William F. Williams, III which found that the defendants, Lake Shore Hospital Authority Manager, Jackson P. Berry, and the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, violated Florida's public records law.

The Law Suit


  Complaint

The law suit, filed in July of 2013, claimed that Manager Berry only allowed record inspection during the hours of 8:30 am and 9:30 am and failed to provide requested paper copies of line item budgets of the Authority.

Incorporated in the complaint was an email from the First Amendment Foundation (FAF) (exhibit 13 (see complaint)) which addressed the issue of "Agency Imposed Restrictions and Arbitrary Time Limits on the Right to Inspect or Copy Public Records." Citing case law and Attorney General Opinions, the FAF's President, Barbara Peterson concluded that "the adoption of a schedule in which public records may be inspected during certain hours is impermissible."


Judge Williams (File Photo)

Manager Berry and the LSHA Board continued to ignore the FAF opinion in its day to day operations, in its arguments at the lower court, and in the District Court of Appeal.

Motion for Summary Judgement

On July 25, 2014 Judge Williams heard the Plaintiff's arguments and those of the Hospital Authority.

Each party argued its motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment argues that the facts are not in dispute and the judge can decide the case based on the law.

On August 26, 2014, Judge Williams ruled in favor of the Plaintiff and against Manager Berry and the LSHA. (Click pdf for order granting Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment)

A short time later, the LSHA Board voted to appeal Judge Williams' decision.

All the appeal documents were filed with the Court and Oral Argument occurred on June 16, 2015.

On July 8, 2015, the 1st DCA rejected the Hospital Authority's Appeal and upheld Judge Williams' lower court opinion granting summary judgment to the plaintiff.

The Three Judge Panel Was Unanimous

The three judge panel was unanimous and the decision is good news for those that are getting the run-around from public agencies. (Click pdf for DCA Opinion)

The Court found "In Florida, access to public records is constitutionally guaranteed and enforced through the Public Records Act. Art. I, § 24(a), Fla. Const.; Ch. 119, Fla. Stat. (2013)." (emphasis added)

The Hospital Authority claimed that making records available online was good enough, even though the Plaintiff asked for paper copies. The Court found:  "Access to public records by remote electronic means is merely “an additional means of inspecting or copying public records.” § 119.07(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2013) (emphasis added). This additional means of access, however, is insufficient where the person requesting the records specifies the traditional method of access via paper copies." (emphasis added)

The Hospital Authority claimed that limiting records inspection to one hour a day between 8:30am and 9:30am complied with the law. The Court ruled that inspection is to be at "any reasonable time" as required by the law and that restricting the public's right to inspect and copy records to an hour a day is verboten.

Finally, the Court addressed the 24 hour notice requirement imposed by the Hospital Authority, which required someone requesting records to give a 24 hour notice to inspect records. The Court found: "Moreover, there is no authority allowing appellants to automatically delay production of records for inspection by imposing a twenty-four-hour notice requirement."


Manager Berry

Hospital Authority Manager Berry Refuses Comment

Before this article was published, Hospital Authority Manager Berry was given the opportunity to comment on the decision and asked if he intended to ask the Authority Board to appeal.

Mr. Berry did not respond.

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Summary Judgment
from Law.com

A court order ruling that no factual issues remain to be tried and therefore a cause of action or all causes of action in a complaint can be decided upon certain facts without trial.

A summary judgment is based upon a motion by one of the parties that contends that all necessary factual issues are settled or so one-sided they need not be tried.

The motion is supported by declarations under oath, excerpts from depositions which are under oath, admissions of fact and other discovery, as well as a legal argument (points and authorities), that argue that there are no triable issues of fact and that the settled facts require a summary judgment for the moving party.

If it is unclear whether there is a triable issue of fact in any cause of action, then summary judgment must be denied as to that cause of action.

The theory behind the summary judgment process is to eliminate the need to try settled factual issues and to decide without trial one or more causes of action in the complaint.