The Ledger by Jim Sanders, News Service of Florida
April 21, 2018
TALLAHASSEE — Ruling against the Florida Department of Health, a circuit judge Friday said an embattled Broward County nursing home is entitled to receive copies of death certificates for people who died across the state around the time of Hurricane Irma.
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the death certificates are public records under a state open-government law. In doing so, he sided with arguments made by The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a Broward County nursing where residents died in sweltering conditions after the September hurricane.
“The records requested by petitioner (the nursing home) are subject to Florida’s Public Record Act … and there is no applicable statutory exemption to permit their withholding from release,” wrote Lewis, who held a hearing in the case this week.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills filed the public-records lawsuit Jan. 31, alleging that the department had improperly refused to provide copies of death certificates for people across the state from Sept. 9 through Sept. 16 — a week-long period that included Hurricane Irma and its immediate aftermath. The lawsuit said the Department of Health responded to the public-records request by requiring the nursing home to request each death certificate by the name of the person who had died and to use a department form. Attorneys for the nursing home alleged that such requirements violate the public-records law.