State of Florida, Department of Financial Services, and Jimmy Patronis, Appellants,
Danahy & Murray, P.A., and Bennett Dennison, PLLC, Appellees.
final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. Charles W.
William Metz and Katie Beth Privett, Senior Attorneys, and
Gregory D. Venz, Deputy General Counsel, Tallahassee, for
Raymond T. Elligett, Jr., and Amy S. Farrior of Buell &
Elligett, P.A., Tampa; Matthew R. Danahy and Howard William
Weber of Danahy & Murray, P.A., Tampa; Alexander Scott
Dennison of Dennison Law, Sarasota; and Ryan Martin Bennett
of Bennet Legal, Bradenton, for Appellees.
defendants/appellants, Department of Financial Services and
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis (collectively
"the Department"), appeal an order from the Second
Judicial Circuit Court, in and for Leon County, declaring
sections 624.23(1)(b)7. and (2), Florida Statutes (2016),
unconstitutional. The Department argues that under the
two-pronged test in Article I, section 24(c) of the Florida
Constitution and Halifax Hospital Medical Center v.
News-Journal Corp., 724 So.2d 567, 569 (Fla. 1999),
section 624.23 is constitutional. We agree that the statute
is constitutional and reverse the order on appeal.
624.23 creates a public records exemption for certain
information held by the Department under the Florida
Insurance Code. The plaintiffs/appellees are two law firms
(collectively "the plaintiffs") who routinely
submitted public records requests seeking information about
participants in two programs that the Department oversees
under the Insurance Code - a mediation program for
residential property insurance claim disputes and
"neutral evaluations" of disputed sinkhole
insurance claims. See §§ 627.7015 &
627.7074, Fla. Stat. (2016). To participate in either
program, an individual policyholder or an insurer submits a
request to the Department providing the policyholder's
name, the insurer's name, as well as other personal
identifying information about the policyholder. The
plaintiffs sought this type of personal identifying
many years, the Department provided the plaintiffs with
spreadsheets including the names of policyholders, their
address, phone number, email address, type of insurance,
reason for contacting the Department, and insurance company
information. In April 2016, the Department determined it was
incorrectly interpreting section 624.23, which it concluded
created a public records exemption for this type of personal
Personal financial and health information held by the
department or office relating to a consumer's complaint
or inquiry regarding a matter or activity regulated under the
Florida Insurance Code . . . are confidential and exempt from
s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State
health and financial information" is defined to include
"[t]he existence, identification, nature or value of a
consumer's [interest in any insurance policy, annuity
contract, or trust." § 624.23(1)(b)7., Fla. Stat.
(2016). The Department asserted that information identifying
a specific consumer in connection with an insurance policy
was confidential and exempt under sections 624.23(1)(b)7. and
(2). Thereafter, it declined to produce personal identifying
information to the plaintiffs.
plaintiffs each filed suit, the cases were consolidated, and
all parties moved for summary judgment on the
Department's interpretation of section 624.23. Before
summary judgment was entered, the Department conceded that it
had initially applied section 624.23 in an overly broad
manner and agreed to provide consumer names and addresses
where requests for mediation or neutral evaluation came from
an insurance company, but still refused to release the
information when the request to participate came from a
trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the
Department, finding its interpretation was correct. Having
looked at the legislative intent that sought to protect a
person's "sensitive financial and health
information" from identity theft or fraud, the court
questioned how the exemption furthered that goal.
Nonetheless, the court concluded that the broad language as
it currently ...