An appeals court Thursday backed the state Agency for Health Care Administration in a long-running dispute with a law firm about public records requests.
The ruling by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal involved requests made by the firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, which represents a defendant in a federal criminal case about alleged Medicaid fraud. Thursday's ruling said the firm submitted 10 requests seeking records dating back to 2002. The requests involved searching large numbers of records, including emails, and the law firm said, at least in part, that fees requested by the agency were unreasonable. The firm ultimately filed a lawsuit in Leon County circuit court, and judge last October ordered the agency to produce a scaled-back list of documents within 48 hours without requirement of payment in advance, according to Thursday's ruling.
The agency appealed the order, and the three-judge panel of the appeals court overturned the circuit judge's decision.
“In the present case, which deals with a dispute over a large public records request, the lower court seemingly failed to appreciate the amount of time required to properly prepare the requested documents, especially given the need to review and redact confidential information,” said the ruling by judges James Wolf, T. Kent Wetherell and Don Lester. “The lower court's order, which is devoid of specific findings of fact and citations to legal authority, is contrary to prior decisions of this (appeals) court and the language of controlling statutes. By ordering production of the requested documents within 48 hours of issuance of its order, the (lower) court effectively requires AHCA to ignore its statutory duty to redact exempted information. The sheer number of documents encompassed by Zuckerman's requests precludes thorough review in the time allowed.”