Tag Archives: attorney’s fees

Enforcing Your Right to Access Public Records

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

Citizens of the state of Florida enjoy broad access to the public records created by state agencies.  Those records range from information on state contracts to certain police records to information on state licensees. Almost all records created by or held by state agencies on you are considered public records with certain limited exceptions.

Access to public records is guaranteed by both Article I, Section 24, of the Florida Constitution and Chapter 119, Florida Statutes.  Those laws state that every person has the right to access any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer or employee of the state of Florida, subject to certain specific exceptions.

What to do if Your Records Request is Refused.

Public records requests can be refused for many reasons.  The most common reason is a statutory exemption or destruction of the records due to retention policies.

If you have requested records that the custodial agency is refusing on exemption grounds, you have a right to know exactly what Florida Administrative Code Rule or Statute the agency is relying on.  You can then challenge the exemption if you believe the agency is not entitled to rely on it.

If you have requested records that the custodial agency has stated were destroyed, you have a right to a copy of the proof of destruction documentation.  Rule 1B-24.003(9)(d), Florida Administrative Code, and Florida General Records Schedule GS1-SL provide for records retention schedules and the right to the information pertaining to the disposition of records.

Many agency records are kept in both hard copy and electronic format.  It is crucial to check that the disposition of records form states how both types of information were disposed of.

It is the experience of this firm that many times the hard copies of the records are destroyed by the agency, but the electronic copies are maintained in its systems.  This can lead to an undisclosed “shadow file” being maintained.  This is especially dangerous with records such as Department of Health (DOH) disciplinary files.

In the case of the DOH, it maintains electronic records of discipline that it freely provides to other agencies (even those outside of the state).  However, when a licensee requests copies of his or her records, the DOH tells him or her that they have been destroyed.  While the paper records may have been destroyed, the electronic ones are freely accessible and disclosable.

If you believe that a state agency has electronic records you have a right to view, speak with an attorney to facilitate a supervised inspection of the records system.  This is your right under Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, and the Florida Constitution.

Enforcing Your Right to Inspect and Copy Public Records.

If the agency from which you are requesting records refuses to provide them to you or otherwise permit you to inspect or photograph them in person, you have the right to seek enforcement in court.

In order to do this, you will be required to file a Petition for Writ of Mandamus in the appropriate circuit court.  This petition is used to force a public officer to perform the duties of his or her office. Because public officers and officials are required by law to permit the inspection, copying and photographing of all non-exempt public records, a court can force them to comply with your request by issuing a Writ of Mandamus.

Public Records Actions and Attorney’s Fees and Costs.

Many people are willing to accept an agency’s refusal to provide access to public records because they are afraid of the attorney’s fees and costs associated with enforcing their rights.  However, the law in Florida strongly favors the public’s access to information and contains a robust attorney’s fees provision.

Section 119.12, Florida Statutes, provides that a person who is forced to bring a civil action (lawsuit) to enforce his or her right to public records is entitled to receive payment of his or her reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in bringing the action from the agency.

Courts have further interpreted the public records laws to provide for an award of attorney’s fees even when the agency produces the records after suit but before being ordered to do so by a court.  This means that you can still recover your attorney’s fees and costs even if the agency produces the records before the court forces it to do so.

Protect Your Personal and Professional Reputation.

There is a wide range of potentially damaging information maintained by state agencies.  The first step in preventing any harm to your personal and professional reputation is to know what information is out there, in what forms, and know the possibilities of it being disseminated in harmful ways.

Navigating the many exemption and enforcement provisions of Florida’s public records laws can be daunting.  It is important to consult with an attorney experienced in handling these matters.  It is also important to remember that if you are unlawfully being denied access to public records, there is a strong chance that your enforcement costs will be awarded by a reviewing court.

Contact Attorneys Experienced in Enforcing Access to Public Records.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in representing citizens attempting to determine if a governmental agency has certain records it is keeping on them and obtaining copies or an inspection of such records. We have been successful in suing and obtaining access to “secret” records being kept by the Department of Health (DOH) on health professionals after their existence was denied by the agency for years.  In such cases, the citizen who is required to sue the agency is entitled to payment of his or her attorney’s fees and costs by the agency.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Have you ever had issues trying to access your public records? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Two Separate Lawsuits Against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation Allege Illegal Kickbacks and False Claims

IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation (NPC) is currently fielding two different lawsuits, filed just days apart from each other, by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The first lawsuit was filed on April 23, 2013, alleging the company gave illegal kickbacks to pharmacists. A second lawsuit was filed on April 26, 2013, alleging illegal kickbacks were paid by NPC to health care providers. According to the DOJ, the government’s complaint seeks damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act, and under the common law for paying kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe NPC products that were reimbursed by federal health care programs.

Click here to read the entire press release from the DOJ.

NPC Accused of Treating Health Care Professionals to Expensive Dinners, Product Discounts and Fishing Trips.

Both lawsuits allege NPC violated the Anti-Kickback Statute. In the April 23, 2013, complaint against NPC the lawsuit alleges the company gave kickbacks, in the form of rebates and discounts to pharmacies in exchange for the pharmacies’ cooperation in switching patients from competitors’ drugs to NPC products.

The April 26, 2013, lawsuit accuses NPC of paying doctors to speak about certain drugs at events that were allegedly social occasions. Many of the programs were allegedly held in circumstances in which it would be impossible to have a presentation. According to the DOJ, this included fishing trips off the Florida coast and meetings in Hooters restaurants. NPC is also accused of treating health care professionals to expensive dinners. The payments and dinners were apparently kickbacks to the doctors for writing prescriptions for NPC drugs.

Florida Doctors Involved.

The lawsuit alleges at least six Florida doctors of participating in the bogus conferences and taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The doctors are not named or charged in the civil lawsuit.

To read the allegations listed in the lawsuit against Florida doctors, click here for the Tampa Bay Times article.

NPC Denies All Claims.

In a press release, NPC disputes all of the government’s allegations. The pharmaceutical company states that discounts and rebates by pharmaceutical companies are a customary and legal procedure, as recognized by the government. It also addresses the physician speaker programs by saying the programs are also acceptable practices designed to inform physicians about the uses of different types of medicines. Click here to read the entire press release from NPC.

The Law Against Using Bribes in Exchange for Selling a Drug or Service.

For years drug companies have paid doctors to speak about new drugs at educational conferences with other health care professionals. The practice is legal, but considered questionable.

Under the Anti-Kickback Statute, it’s a felony for health care professionals to accept bribes in exchange for recommending a drug or service covered by Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE or the Department of Veterans Affairs health care program.

Whistleblowers Who Report Fraud and False Claims Against the Government Stand to Receive Large Rewards.

The original complaint against NPC was allegedly filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by a former sales representative.

Individuals working in the health care industry, whether for hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, medical groups, home health agencies or others, often become aware of questionable activities. Often they are even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to fraud on the government.

In a two-part blog series on whistleblower/qui tam lawsuits I explain types of false claims, the reward programs for coming forward with a false claim, who can file a whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit, and more. Click here to read the first part of this blog, and click here for the second part.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent plaintiffs, patients, health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of these lawsuits? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Masow, Julie. “Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation Disputes Allegations in Two US Government Lawsuits and Looks Forward to a Fair Discussion of the Facts.” Novartis Pharmaceuticals. (April 26, 2013). From: http://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/newsroom/pressreleases/137176.shtml

Davis, Brittany Alana. “Lawsuit: Pharmaceutical Company Gave Kickbacks to Florida Doctors.” Tampa Bay Times. (May 3, 2013). From: http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/lawsuit-pharmaceutical-company-gave-kickbacks-to-florida-doctors/2119133

Department of Justice. “United States Files Complaint Against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. for Allegedly Paying Kickbacks to Doctors in Exchange for Prescribing Its Drugs.” Department of Justice. (April 26, 2013). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/April/13-civ-481.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Appeal Court Rules AHCA Was Justified in Withdrawing Home Health Agency’s License Application

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The First District Court of Appeal has ruled that the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) had substantial justification to withdraw a home health agency’s application for licensure in a recent case. To view the opinion, click here.

Home Health Agency Challenged AHCA’s Decision to Withdraw Application.

AHCA withdrew the home health care facility’s license application because the application allegedly contained insufficient information. The application did not provide enough information for AHCA to verify actual ownership of the facility.

The home health agency challenged AHCA’s decision. The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that AHCA incorrectly withdrew the application. According to the ALJ, the application was complete, and the home health agency met all the requirements for licensure at the time the application was submitted. To view the recommended order, click here.

Home Health Agency Awarded Attorney’s Fees by ALJ.

After receiving this favorable order, the home health agency moved for attorney’s fees pursuant to section 57.111(4)(a), Fla. Stat. The home health agency argued that AHCA had no justification for withdrawing its license application. At a separate hearing, the ALJ awarded attorney’s fees to the home health care facility.

Appeal Court Reverses ALJ’s Ruling.

AHCA appealed this decision. On its license application, the home health agency had allegedly claimed that one person had sole ownership of the facility. However, a letter informing AHCA of litigation contesting the sole ownership claim was included with the license application. According to the court of appeal, given the uncertainty the home health agency created concerning its ownership, there was substantial justification for AHCA’s action. The ALJ’s ruling was reversed by the court of appeal.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Home Health Agency Cases.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent home health agencies and home health agency employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Agency for Health Care Administration v. MVP Health, Inc. 74 So. 3d 1141 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011)

Smallwood, Mary F. “Attorney’s Fees.” Administrative Law Section Newsletter. (Apr. 2012).

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.