LSHA's Berry Must Comply With Public Records Law: 1st DCA Upholds Lower Court Decision
Posted July 10, 2015 12:30 pm
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
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.
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 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."
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.