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Lee Memorial Loses In ‘Special Law’ Dispute

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
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Lee Memorial Hospital

Siding with an insurer in a case stemming from the treatment of an auto-accident victim, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday said a 2000 state law focused on Southwest Florida’s Lee Memorial Health System is unconstitutional.

The case dealt with liens that Lee Memorial filed to try to get payment for services provided in 2006 and 2007 to accident victim Ruben Gallegos, according to ruling last year by the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Lee Memorial filed a lawsuit against Progressive Select Insurance Co. alleging that the insurer had impaired the liens by settling a claim in the accident.

The 2000 law, which dealt with the duties and powers of Lee Memorial as a public health system, included a provision about the system being able to use liens.

Progressive Select argued that the 2000 law was an unconstitutional “special law,” because a section of the Florida Constitution says special laws --- which are often narrowly tailored to local issues --- cannot allow the imposition of liens on private contracts.

While Lee Memorial is a public entity, the Supreme Court agreed with Progressive Select that an agreement by the patient to pay for treatment was a private contract.

As a result, the court said the 2000 lien law used by Lee Memorial violates the Constitution. “Lee Memorial contends that the contract must be public because Lee Memorial is a public entity,” Justice Alan Lawson wrote in Thursday’s opinion.

“However, the term ‘private’ in this constitutional provision modifies the contract, not the parties who have entered the contract. The subject matter of the contract is the provision of and payment for medical services, not the administrative operation of Lee Memorial.”

Five other justices joined Lawson in the opinion. Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed with the result but did not sign on to the opinion.