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Davis v. Sheridan Healthcare, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

October 16, 2019

PATTY DAVIS, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Appellant,
v.
SHERIDAN HEALTHCARE, INC.; SHERIDAN RADIOLOGY SERVICES OF PINELLAS, INC.; LABORATORY CORPORATION OF AMERICA; and LABORATORY CORPORATION OF AMERICA HOLDINGS, Appellees.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Mark R. Wolfe and Cheryl K. Thomas, Judges.

          J. Andrew Meyer of J. Andrew Meyer, P.A., Redington Beach; and Christa L. Collins of Harmon Parker, P.A., Tampa, for Appellant.

          Susan N. Eisenberg and Jennifer T. Williams of Cozen O'Connor, Miami, for Appellee Sheridan Healthcare, Inc.

          David S. Johnson and Scott W. Anderson of Johnson Daboll Anderson, PLLC, Tampa, for Appellee Sheridan Radiology Services of Pinellas, Inc.

          Carol A. Licko and James L. VanLandingham of Hogan Lovells US, LLP, Miami; and Steven F. Barley of Hogan Lovells US, LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellees Laboratory Corporation of America and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings.

          KHOUZAM, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Patty Davis filed two separate actions under section 559.77(1), Florida Statutes (2014), of the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA). She alleged that, as an injured employee under chapter 440, Florida Statutes (2014), the Workers' Compensation Law (WCL), two medical service providers illegally attempted to collect money from her. The courts below dismissed her actions, finding that because the WCL grants exclusive jurisdiction over any matter concerning reimbursement to the Florida Department of Financial Services, she is precluded from filing her claims under the FCCPA. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse both dismissals and hold that the WCL does not preclude Davis's claims filed against her workers' compensation medical providers under section 559.77(1) of the FCCPA.

         Davis was injured in the course of her employment in December 2013 and applied for workers' compensation benefits. As part of these benefits, she had a preoperative chest x-ray taken in October 2014 by Sheridan Radiology Services of Pinellas, Inc., a subsidiary of Sheridan Healthcare, Inc. (collectively, Sheridan). In her complaint, Davis alleged that Sheridan knew she was a workers' compensation patient and thus not responsible for paying the x-ray fees. Despite this knowledge, Sheridan sent Davis a bill in April 2015, demanding payment for the October 2014 x-ray. Over a month later, in June 2015, Davis received another bill, this time from a collection agency. In response, Davis's workers' compensation carrier, Commercial Risk Management, Inc., contacted Sheridan by telephone and by letter. In both communications, the carrier informed Sheridan that Davis was not the party responsible for payment and warned that billing Davis was a violation of the WCL. Despite this warning, Sheridan sent yet another bill to Davis in July 2015. In response to this third demand for payment, Davis filed suit against Sheridan in circuit court. Her amended complaint alleges violations of the FCCPA, section 559.72(9), for attempting to collect an illegitimate debt, and section 559.72(5), for disclosing false information to a collection agency.

         The second set of defendants in this consolidated case, Laboratory Corporation of America and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (collectively, Labcorp), also provided medical testing in connection with Davis's work injury. Davis alleges that, like Sheridan, Labcorp billed her twice for an illegitimate debt, once in May 2014 and again in September 2014. She therefore filed a separate FCCPA claim against Labcorp for violations of section 559.72(9).

         After a period of complex litigation in both lawsuits, Sheridan and Labcorp moved for judgments on the pleadings. They argued that Davis's FCCPA claims depend on her showing an illegitimate debt, and the law determining the legitimacy of that debt is the WCL. Section 440.13(11)(c) grants exclusive jurisdiction to the Department of Financial Services over "any matters concerning reimbursement." Since Davis's FCCPA claims are actually matters concerning reimbursement of Sheridan and Labcorp, her workers' compensation medical providers, they argued that the circuit court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear her FCCPA claims. The courts below agreed and dismissed the claims. This consolidated appeal follows.

         The parties present two interpretations of the interaction between the WCL and the FCCPA. Sheridan and Labcorp contend that the WCL precludes Davis's FCCPA claims against workers' compensation medical providers. Davis, on the other hand, argues that the WCL's grant of exclusive jurisdiction to a state agency over "matters concerning reimbursement" does not abrogate the FCCPA. In resolving this question, we look to legislative intent, "the polestar that guides a court's statutory construction analysis." Knowles v. Beverly Enters.-Fla., Inc., 898 So.2d 1, 5 (Fla. 2004).

         To determine the legislative intent behind a statute, a court must first examine the plain meaning of the statute's text. "[T]he statute's text is the most reliable and authoritative expression of the Legislature's intent." Fla. Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co. v. Cox, 967 So.2d 815, 820 (Fla. 2007) (quoting V.K.E. v. State, 934 So.2d 1276, 1286 (Fla. 2006) (Cantero, J., dissenting)). "If the plain meaning of the language is clear and unambiguous, then the Court need not delve into principles of statutory construction unless that meaning leads to a result that is either unreasonable or clearly contrary to legislative intent." Polite v. State, 973 So.2d 1107, 1111 (Fla. 2007); see also Dep't of Children & Family Servs. v. P.E., 14 So.3d 228, 234 (Fla. 2009).

         The plain language of the WCL states that the Department of Financial Services "has exclusive jurisdiction to decide any matters concerning reimbursement, to resolve any overutilization dispute under subsection (7), and to decide any question concerning overutilization under subsection (8), which question or dispute arises after January 1, 1994." § 440.13(11)(c) (emphasis added). On the other hand, the FCCPA creates "a civil action against a person violating the provisions of s. 559.72." § 559.77(1). And section 559.72 states that "[i]n collecting consumer debts, no person shall . . . [c]laim, attempt, or threaten to enforce a debt when such person knows that the debt is not legitimate, or assert the existence of some other legal right when such person knows that the right does not exist." § 559.72(9) (emphasis added). The section also contains a similar prohibition against "[d]isclos[ing] to a person other than the debtor or her or his family information affecting the debtor's reputation . . . with knowledge or reason to know that the other person does not have a legitimate business need for the information or that the information is false." § 559.72(5).

         We first note that the terms "reimbursement" and "collection" do not mean the same thing. To "reimburse" means to "repay" or "to make restoration or payment of an equivalent to." Reimburse, Merriam-Webster.com, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reimburse (last visited Apr. 25, 2019). The term is often synonymous with indemnification and is typically used to express repayment by a third party not directly involved in a transaction. See Reimbursement, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019); see also Indemnify, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). For example, if John does not have cash at lunchtime and Jane purchases a ten-dollar sandwich for him from a vendor, John reimburses Jane when he pays her the ten dollars she spent on his behalf. Jane does not reimburse the vendor when she buys the sandwich, nor does she reimburse the vendor if she instead buys the sandwich on credit and pays for it next week. Reimbursement thus involves more than two parties.

         On the other hand, to "collect" means "to gather or exact" or "to claim as due and receive payment for." Collect, Merriam-Webster.com https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/collect (last visited Apr. 25, 2019). If John fails to pay Jane back for his sandwich, Jane attempts to collect the debt when she does something-writes a letter, sends an email, makes a phone call-to demand that John pay her. The collection of the debt is Jane's demand and receipt of ten dollars from John. Similarly, if Jane fails to pay the vendor for the sandwich, the vendor's pursuit of that payment would also constitute collection activity. Thus, collection is not the same concept or type of activity as reimbursement, even if a transaction sometimes involves both.

         Applying the ordinary meanings of the two terms to the statutory sections at issue here, it becomes clear that Davis's FCCPA claims against illegal "collection" practices are not "matters concerning reimbursement." To mirror the Jane, John, and vendor example, Davis's compensation carrier, Commercial Risk Management, Inc., is responsible for providing Davis's medical services. Sheridan and Labcorp provided those medical services on behalf of Commercial Risk Management. It follows that the only party who can reimburse Sheridan and Labcorp is Commercial Risk Management. Indeed, section 440.13(13)(a) provides that "[a] health care provider may not collect or receive a fee from an injured employee within this state, except as otherwise provided by this chapter." Thus, claims that Sheridan and Labcorp have engaged in unlawful practices to "collect" consumer debts from Davis under the FCCPA are not "matters concerning reimbursement" committed to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department of Financial Services under section 440.13(11)(c). Rather, "reimbursement" under section 440.13(11)(c) in this context involves Commercial Risk Management making Sheridan and LabCorp whole for services they rendered to Davis. In contrast, "collecting" under the FCCPA involves the separate and distinct conduct of Sheridan or LabCorp making demands against a consumer for payment of charges they claim to be due for those services. Different parties as well as different kinds of activity are involved.

         The dissent appears to conflate "reimbursement" and "collection" to conclude that the phrase "matters concerning reimbursement" in section 440.13(11)(c) unambiguously embraces collecting a consumer debt when that debt is a charge covered by the WCL. However, the dissent reaches this result merely by asserting that the statute unambiguously supports its interpretation and without discussing the meaning of the relevant statutory terms. Moreover, to the extent that the dissent may have based its conclusion on the "matters concerning" language, that language does not change the result. The term "concerning" means "regarding" or "relating to." Concerning, Merriam-Webster.com, https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary /concerning (last visited Apr. 25, 2019). Because reimbursement and collection ...


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