170 So.3d 873 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2015), 1D14-3178, Weaver v. Myers

Docket Nº:1D14-3178
Citation:170 So.3d 873, 40 Fla.L.Weekly D 1676
Opinion Judge:WOLF, J.
Party Name:EMMA GAYLE WEAVER, individually, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of THOMAS E. WEAVER, deceased, Appellant, v. STEPHEN C. MYERS, M.D., WEST FLORIDA SPECIALTY PHYSICIANS, LLC d/b/a WEST FLORIDA CARDIOVASCULAR AND THORACIC SURGERY and d/b/a and a/k/a WEST FLORIDA MEDICAL GROUP, and WEST FLORIDA REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, INC. d/b/a WEST FLO
Attorney:Robert S. Peck, Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C., Washington, DC, and Virginia M. Buchanan and W. Cameron Stephenson of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, P.A., Penscacola, for Appellant. Philip M. Burlington and Adam J. Richardson of Burlington & Rockenbach, P.A.,...
Judge Panel:WOLF, J. ROWE and BILBREY, JJ., CONCUR. ROWE and BILBREY, JJ., CONCUR.
Case Date:July 21, 2015
Court:Florida Court of Appeals, First District
 
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Page 873

170 So.3d 873 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2015)

40 Fla.L.Weekly D 1676

EMMA GAYLE WEAVER, individually, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of THOMAS E. WEAVER, deceased, Appellant,

v.

STEPHEN C. MYERS, M.D., WEST FLORIDA SPECIALTY PHYSICIANS, LLC d/b/a WEST FLORIDA CARDIOVASCULAR AND THORACIC SURGERY and d/b/a and a/k/a WEST FLORIDA MEDICAL GROUP, and WEST FLORIDA REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, INC. d/b/a WEST FLORIDA HOSPITAL, Appellees

No. 1D14-3178

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

July 21, 2015

Released for Publication August 6, 2015.

Page 874

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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An appeal from the Circuit Court for Escambia County. J. Scott Duncan and Edward P. Nickinson, III, Judges.

Robert S. Peck, Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C., Washington, DC, and Virginia M. Buchanan and W. Cameron Stephenson of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, P.A., Penscacola, for Appellant.

Philip M. Burlington and Adam J. Richardson of Burlington & Rockenbach, P.A., West Palm Beach, for Amicus Curiae Florida Justice Association, in support of Appellant.

Mark Hicks and Erik P. Bartenhagen of Hicks, Porter, Ebenfeld & Stein, P.A., Miami, for Appellees.

Mark K. Delegal and Stephen H. Grimes of Holland & Knight LLP, Tallahassee, and William W. Large, Florida Justice Reform Institute, Tallahassee, for Amicus Curiae Florida Justice Reform Institute, and Jeffery Michael Scott, Florida Medical Association, for Amicus Curiae Florida Medical Association, in support of Appellees.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Allen Winsor, Solicitor General, and Adam S. Tanenbaum, Chief Deputy Solicitor General, Tallahassee, for Amicus Curiae State of Florida, in support of Appellees.

WOLF, J. ROWE and BILBREY, JJ., CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 876

WOLF, J.

Appellant challenges the validity of certain 2013 amendments to the medical malpractice presuit notice sections of the Florida Statutes: sections 766.106 and 766.1065. These amendments in pertinent part allow for presuit ex parte interviews between potential defendants and the potential claimant's treating health care providers and require the potential claimant to sign a written waiver of federal privacy protection concerning relevant medical information prior to instigating a medical malpractice lawsuit. Appellant raises four state constitutional challenges and one challenge based on federal preemption, alleging that the statutory amendments (1) violate the separation of powers doctrine; (2) violate the constitutional limitation on special legislation; (3) impermissibly burden the constitutional guarantee of free access to the courts; (4) violate the decedent's constitutional right to privacy; and (5) are preempted by the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act of 1996 (" HIPAA" ). We affirm the trial court's

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determination of the validity of the statutory changes.

I. The Statutory Amendments

The medical malpractice presuit notice statutes require a claimant to provide a potential defendant with notice prior to filing suit and implement a 90-day tolling period after service of the notice in order for the parties to investigate the claim presuit. § 766.106(3), Fla. Stat. (2013).

Prior to the 2013 amendments, five methods of informal discovery were available to the parties when conducting this presuit informal investigation, including the taking of unsworn statements. § 766.106(6)(b)(1)-(5), Fla. Stat. (2012).

However, the amendments added a new method of informal discovery for prospective defendants: interviews of treating health care providers. See Ch. 2013-108 § 3, Laws of Fla. (codified at § 766.106(6)(b)(5), Fla. Stat. (2013)); Ch. 2013-108 § 4, Laws of Fla. (codified at § 766.1065(3), Fla. Stat. (2013)).

These interviews are to be " consistent with the authorization for release of protected health information," which must be signed by the claimant prior to the initiation of the medical malpractice lawsuit. § 766.106(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2013). The authorization itself explicitly provides permission for potential defendants to conduct ex parte interviews with the claimant's health care providers. § 766.1065(3)(E), Fla. Stat.

The medical malpractice claimant may revoke the authorization for release of protected health information; however, if the claimant does so, the presuit notice that was served with the authorization " is deemed retroactively void from the date of issuance, and any tolling effect that the presuit notice may have had on any applicable statute-of-limitations period is retroactively rendered void." § 766.1065(3)(G), Fla. Stat.

Thus, a claimant now cannot institute a medical malpractice lawsuit without authorizing ex parte interviews between the claimant's health care providers and the potential defendant. § 766.1065(3), Fla. Stat.1

II. Procedural Posture

Appellant filed a complaint in which she requested a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against appellee on July 1, 2013. She alleged that she had contemplated filing a medical malpractice action, but was concerned that the amendments to the medical malpractice presuit notice statutes were violative of both the Florida Constitution and HIPAA.

The trial court, after a hearing on both parties' motions for summary judgment, determined the 2013 amendments were constitutional and not preempted by HIPAA.

III. Standards of Review

Our review of the trial court's determination regarding the constitutionality of the statute and its amendments is de novo. Caribbean Conservation Corp. v. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Comm'n, 838 So.2d 492, 500 (Fla. 2003). However, if a statute can be construed to be constitutional, it should be. VanBibber v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Ins. Co., 439 So.2d 880, 883 (Fla. 1983); see also Abdool v. Bondi, 141 So.3d 529, 538 (Fla. 2014).

Our review of the federal preemption issue is also de novo. Vreeland v. Ferrer, 71 So.3d 70, 72 (Fla. 2011).

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IV. Do the Amendments Violate the Separation of Powers Doctrine?

Appellant first alleges that the amendments' addition of ex parte interviews to the permissible methods of informal discovery is a procedural change which impermissibly conflicts with the limitations on informal discovery methods as outlined by Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.650.

Article V, section 2(a) of the Florida Constitution provides that the Florida Supreme Court is to " adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts." Legislation which impermissibly intrudes on this process violates the separation of powers provision contained in article II, section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Thus, though the Legislature may enact substantive law, the Florida Supreme Court alone has the authority to adopt judicial rules of practice and procedure. See Se. Floating Docks, Inc. v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 82...

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