SURTERRA FLORIDA, LLC., ALPHA FOLIAGE, INC. and REDLAND NURSERY, INC., Appellants,
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH and MICHAEL BARFIELD, Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. Charles W.
L. Wharton and Brittany O. Finkbeiner of Dean, Mead &
Dunbar, Tallahassee, for Appellants.
Young Hodges, Chief Appellate Counsel, Florida Department of
Health, Tallahassee, for Appellee Florida Department of
Health; Andrea Flynn Mogensen of Law Office of Andrea Flynn
Mogensen, P.A., Sarasota, for Appellee Michael Barfield.
Appellants challenge an order finding
that the identities and related information of their
consultants, investors, and partners do not meet the
definition of a trade secret under Florida law. We affirm the
trial court's findings regarding investors and partners
because appellants did not prove that the names and related
information of their individual investors and partners are
trade secrets. However, we reverse the trial court's
findings regarding appellants' consultants and remand to
the trial court to make more specific findings as to whether
the particular identities and related information of
appellants' consultants meet the requirements of section
812.081(1)(c), Florida Statutes (2015).
2015, appellants submitted applications to the Florida
Department of Health (Department) for licenses to operate
dispensing organizations for "low-THC cannabis" or
"medical cannabis" pursuant to section
381.986(5)(b), Florida Statutes (2015). Appellants indicated
that portions of their applications contained confidential
trade secrets pursuant to section 812.081, Florida Statutes
(2015), and were exempt from disclosure as public records
under section 815.045, Florida Statutes (2015). The
Department reviewed the applications and appellants'
written materials supporting their claimed trade secret
exemptions and ultimately found that some portions of the
applications were trade secrets under Florida law.
Michael Barfield submitted a public records request to the
Department for the files related to appellants'
applications. The Department declined to release to Mr.
Barfield appellants' unredacted applications pursuant to
section 815.045 but told him that he could retrieve the
redacted versions of the applications on its website.
Subsequently, Mr. Barfield filed suit for a declaratory
judgment that the exemption asserted by the Department does
not apply to the redacted portions of appellants'
trial court held a hearing to examine the documents and to
determine whether they contained trade secrets. At the
hearing, Robert Jacob Bergmann, the Chief Executive Officer
of Surterra Florida, LLC, testified about the alleged trade
secret information. Mr. Barfield and his counsel were
permitted to hear only a portion of Mr. Bergmann's
the trial court found that appellants' purported trade
secret information falls into the following five categories:
(1) investor, consultant, and partner identity; (2) financial
structure; (3) security processes and building designs; (4)
nursery operations, scientific processes, and business plans;
and (5) administrative materials and standard operating
procedures. As to the latter four categories of
appellants' information, the trial court concluded that
they are trade secrets and exempt from disclosure under the
Florida public records law. These findings have not been
appealed to this Court and are therefore not at issue. As to
the first category of appellant's information, however,
the trial court found that the identities and related
information of appellants' investors, consultants, and
partners do not meet the trade secret definition under
section 812.081(1)(c). Appellants now seek reversal on appeal
as to the court's findings regarding the first category
broad public records policy provides "that all state,
county, and municipal records are open for personal
inspection and copying by any person." § 119.01(1),
Fla. Stat. (2015); see also Art. I, § 24(a),
Fla. Const. ("Every person has the right to inspect or
copy any public record made or received in connection with
the official business of any public body, officer, or
employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf . .
. ."). However, the Legislature has made some exemptions
to the public records law. One such exemption is that of
trade secrets. See § 815.045, Fla. Stat. (2015)
("The Legislature finds that it is a public necessity
that trade secret information . . . be expressly made
confidential and exempt from the public records law because
it is a felony to disclose such records.").
381, Florida Statutes (2015), the chapter under which
appellants submitted their applications to become dispensing
organizations, reflects both Florida's public records
policy and the trade secret exemption. Section 381.83(1),
Florida Statutes (2015), states that "[r]ecords,
reports, or information obtained from any person under this
chapter . . . shall be available to the public, except upon a
showing satisfactory to the department . . . that such