Florida Department of Corrections and Mark S. Inch, as Secretary of Florida Department of Corrections, Appellants,
Miami Herald Media Company, publisher of The Miami Herald, Julie Brown, and Casey Frank, 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.
L. Messersmith of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.A.,
Orlando, for Appellants.
Sanford L. Bohrer and Scott D. Ponce, of Holland &
Knight, LLP, Miami, for Appellees.
Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) appeals the trial
court's final order finding that the Miami
Herald established good cause to grant the
newspaper access to requested prison video recordings. We
reverse and find that the trial court abused its discretion
in light of the Miami Herald's admission that it no
longer needed the footage.
August 2015, the Miami Herald made separate public records
requests asking DOC for specific video footage depicting the
area around an inmate's cell at the Suwannee Correctional
Institution (the Suwannee footage) and the outside shower
area of an inmate dorm at Sumter Correctional Institution
(the Sumter footage).
denied both requests, stating that the requested video
recordings were confidential and exempt from Florida's
public records laws. Specifically, DOC claimed that the
footage fell under the "security plan" exemption to
Florida's public disclosure laws. §§
119.071(3)(a) & 281.301(1), Fla. Stat. As a result, the
Miami Herald filed a complaint seeking injunctive and
mandamus relief requesting that the trial court compel DOC to
produce the footage. After reviewing the video footage in
camera and conducting hearings on the matter, the trial
court issued an order finding that the videos fell within the
security plan exemption and were exempt from public
April 2016, the Miami Herald filed a motion for
reconsideration asking that the trial court reassess its
order due to the legislature's then-recent amendments to
sections 119.071(3)(a)3.d. and 281.301(2)(d) providing for a
"good cause" exception to an exemption from public
disclosure. Specifically, the Miami Herald argued that its
goal of gathering information regarding inmate treatment at
state prisons and reporting it to the public constituted good
cause. DOC denied that the newspaper provided sufficient good
cause to warrant disclosure of the footage and reiterated its
security concerns over its release.
2017, the trial court granted the Miami Herald's motion
for reconsideration noting the "awards [Miami Herald
journalist Julie Brown] has received for her reporting on
Florida's prisons" and concluding that
"[d]isclosure of the video recordings in this case,
combined with the extremely important right of freedom of the
press, in my opinion constitutes good cause." At a
subsequent hearing, the Miami Herald advised the trial court
that it would no longer wanted the videos as they were no
February 2018, the trial court issued its Final Order noting
that the Miami Herald no longer wanted copies of the security
footage, but still found that the newspaper had shown good
cause to satisfy the exception to the public disclosure
exemption laws. As a result, the trial court ruled that DOC
was legally obligated to provide the Miami Herald access to
related to the physical security of a State correctional
facility are exempt from disclosure under Florida's
public records and safety and security services
laws. The applicable statutes provide exceptions
to exemption, and in 2016, the Legislature added a provision
to the exceptions permitting disclosure "[u]pon a
showing of good cause before a court of competent
jurisdiction." Ch. 2016-178, ...