Although the average course on civics or government thoroughly reviews the provisions of the United States Constitution, many overlook the importance of state constitutions as sources of important rights. While certain state constitutional provisions – for instance, the Florida Constitution’s analog to the Fourth Amendment – are interpreted co-extensively with their federal counterparts, some do provide particularized protections that should not be overlooked. In a recent case, Ampuero-Martinez v. Cedars Healthcare Group, the Supreme Court of Florida raised one such provision: Article X § 25(a) of the Florida Constitution.
Art. X § 25(a) of the Florida Constitution, titled “Patients’ right to know about adverse medical incidents,” provides Floridians with the right to “have access to any records made or received in the course of business by a health care facility or provider relating to any adverse medical incident.” Ampuero-Martinez arose from a discovery dispute in a medical malpractice case involving the death of the plaintiff’s father at a medical facility in Miami-Dade County. The plaintiff sought medical records from the facility where her father’s death occurred, and the defendant medical facility objected to the production request. The trial court overruled this objection, but the defendant filed an immediate appeal to the Third District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court in part, holding that the trial court failed to properly limit discovery pursuant to § 381.028(7)(a) of the Florida Statutes.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Ampuero-Martinez is quite short for good reason. Three years prior to the Third District Court of Appeal decision, the Supreme Court of Florida had definitively held that § 381.028(7)(a) unconstitutionally contravened the constitutional protection afforded by Art. X § 25(a). See Florida Hosp. Waterman, Inc. v. Buster, 984 So.2d 478 (Fla. 2007). Consequently, the Supreme Court quashed the Third District’s decision and remanded the case to the trial court for reconsideration in accordance with the standards set forth in Buster. In Buster, the court held that several provisions of § 381.028, legislation that had been enacted by the Florida Legislature to “implement” and otherwise give force and effect to Art. X § 25(a), contravened the broad rights provided by the then newly-enacted constitutional provision. Specifically, the court noted the following conflicts: