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State high court gives thumbs-down to applying records law retroactively

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    NMU         FLORIDA         Freedom of Information         May 2, 2001    

State high court gives thumbs-down to applying records law retroactively

  • The Florida Supreme Court found there was no clear legislative intent to apply a more restrictive records law to a request made before the law was enacted.

The Supreme Court of Florida decided in late April that a law restricting public access to the records of a private corporation running a formerly public hospital would not be applied retroactively.

The case ends a lengthy legal battle by the Daytona Beach News-Journal to access Memorial Hospital-West Volusia, Inc.’s records and meetings. While the case was pending, the legislature passed a law that exempted records of a “private corporation that leases a public hospital” from the state’s open records laws. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that the hospitals records were open under the public record law, as it stood when the case was filed, because the private corporation was “acting on behalf of” the county.

When the newspaper sought to enforce the order, the hospital balked, claiming that the new law applied retroactively to the records. A trial court ordered the hospital to produce the requested documents and a district court of appeals affirmed, but certified a question to the Supreme Court for review. The appeals court asked the Supreme Court to determine if the law could be applied retroactively.

The Supreme Court determined that this particular law did not apply retroactively because it found that there was “not a clear legislative intent that the statute apply retroactively” in the language of the law. However, it noted that if it had found such an intent, it still would have had to decide if the a “retroactive application is constitutionally permissible.”

(Memorial Hospital-West Volusia, Inc. v. News-Journal Corporation; Media Counsel; Jonathan D. Kaney, Jr. and Jonathan D. Kaney, III, Cobb Cole & Bell, Daytona) CC

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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