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HRDC Wins Appeal in Florida Public Records Request Case Against Armor Correctional Health Services

In an opinion reached on December 1, 2021, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) in its suit seeking records from Armor Correctional Health Services, the contracted healthcare provider at the Palm Beach County jail.

HRDC, the nonprofit that publishes PLN, made its request to Armor under § 119.07(1)(a) Fla. Stat. (2021). The healthcare company responded that it was unable to comply. HRDC then filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, where Armor is headquartered, seeking to compel production of the records. But Judge Beatrice Butchko denied the petition, accepting Armor’s contention. HRDC filed an appeal.

The Third District Court, observing that the right to access public records is one of constitutional magnitude, said disclosure is not a discretionary act. Even if the request could not be met for some reason outside of Armor’s control, the Court continued, an evidentiary hearing was still necessary to ensure that the refusal was factual and lawful, citing Clay Cnty. Educ. Ass’n v. Clay Cnty. Sch. Bd., 144 So. 3d 708, 710 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), as well as Grace v. Jenne, 855 So. 2d 262, 263 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).

The physical loss of the public records in question does not matter, the Court concluded, only whether the reasoning for the inability to provide them was factual and lawful, and that determination can only be made in a court of law. Thus the lower court’s denial of HRDC’s petition for a writ of mandamus was reversed and the case remanded.

HRDC is being represented by attorneys Sabarish P. Neelakanta and Yvette Farnsworth of SPN Law, LLC, in West Palm Beach. See: Human. Rights Def. Ctr. v. Armor Corr. Health Servs., 2021 Fla. App. LEXIS 15229 (Fla. 3d DCA). 

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Related legal case

Human. Rights Def. Ctr. v. Armor Corr. Health Servs.