for Writ of Certiorari to Review Quasi-Judicial Action: Agencies, Boards, and
Commissions of Local Government: CIVIL
PROCEDURE – Discovery – certiorari review is appropriate as there is no
adequate remedy once private and confidential documents are disclosed –
Administrative Law Judge departed from the essential requirements of law in
denying the request of the City and the Office of the Medical Director for a
protective order – Florida Statutes, section 401.425(5), states that
investigations of a committee providing quality assurance are not subject to
discovery – exception is the discovery of those matters within one’s personal
knowledge – subpoenas issued by Vaughn should have been limited to material
related to personal knowledge - Petition granted.
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
SERVICES, OFFICE OF THE MEDICAL DIRECTOR,
vs. Appeal No.06-0080AP-88B
DWAYNE C. VAUGHN,
CAUSE came before the Court on the Petition for Writ of Certiorari, filed
by the Petitioner, Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services, Officer of the
Medical Director (OMD), and joined by the City of
underlying case arises out of an incident occurring shortly before midnight, on
April 5, 2006, wherein the Respondent, Dwayne C. Vaughn (Vaughn), of the
Clearwater Fire and Rescue,
responded to a 911 call for emergency medical assistance with a disruptive
thirty-five year old male at a
Vaughn notified his supervisors of the equipment failure and was then interviewed by multiple City employees and police detectives. On April 5, 2006, Vaughn was notified by the OMD that he was being investigated by the OMD’s Quality Assurance Review Committee (QAR Committee), # 06-174. On April 17, 2006, Vaughn was suspended from clinical duties pending the outcome of the investigation. On June 13, 2006, the OMD’s Medical Director, Dr. Laurie Romig, notified Vaughn that his paramedic and EMT certifications in Pinellas County were being permanently revoked for “falsification or inappropriate alteration of EMS records” in violation of the Rules and Regulations of the Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services System (Rules and Regulations). Vaughn was then terminated from his employment.
Vaughn appealed his termination to the State
The OMD then filed, on September 19, 2006, a Brief in Support of the City’s Motion for Protective Order wherein the OMD sought a broader protective order, to wit: “(1) an order protecting from discovery all documents and information produced and/or obtained by the Petitioner during its Quality Assurance Review (“QAR”); and (2) an order excluding from evidence at the hearing, any testimony relating to matters produced and/or presented during the QAR proceedings.” As did the City, the OMD cited to Florida Statutes, section 401.425, in support of its request. Vaughn filed his Response, presenting several rebuttal arguments: (1) the statutory privilege in section 401.425 does not apply as the investigative committees involved in Vaughn’s termination were not committees as defined by statute; (2) the statute does not protect external sources of information; or, (3) to the extent that the statutory privilege did apply, it was waived by voluntary disclosure.
On October 2, 2006, the ALJ entered the Order Denying Motion to Limit Subpoenas and for Protective Order (Order), denying the City’s Motion for Protective Order. The one-page Order does not set forth any findings, nor put any limitations of the anticipated depositions of the City’s Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief. The OMD, later joined by the City, filed its Petition for Writ of Certiorari before this Court seeking to quash the decision of the ALJ.
issue raised before this Court is whether the ALJ
departed from the essential requirements of law in denying the request of the
City and OMD for a protective order.
Initially, the Court finds that certiorari review is appropriate in this
case as there is no adequate remedy once private and confidential documents are
disclosed. See Martin-Johnson,
Inc. v. Savage, 509 So.2d 1097, 1100 (
In reviewing the primary issue, Florida Statutes, section 401.425(5), states, in part:
The investigations, proceedings, and records of a committee providing quality assurance activities as described in subsections (1)-(4) shall not be subject to discovery or introduction into evidence in any civil action or disciplinary proceeding by the department or employing agency arising out of matters which are the subject of evaluation and review by the committee, and no person who was in attendance at a meeting of such committee shall be permitted or required to testify in any such civil action or disciplinary proceeding as to any evidence or other matters produced or presented during the proceedings of such committee or as to any findings, recommendations, evaluations, opinions, or other actions of such committee or any members thereof. However, information, documents, or records provided to the committee from sources external to the committee are not immune from discovery or use in any such civil action or disciplinary proceeding merely because they were presented during proceedings of such committee nor should any person who testifies before a committee or who is a member of such committee be prevented from testifying as to matters within the person’s knowledge, but, such witness shall not be asked about his or her testimony before a committee or information obtained from or opinions formed by him or her as a result of participating in activities conducted by a committee.
The OMD’s Rules and Regulations track the language of Section 401. Rule XII, Quality Assurance, establishes a Quality Assurance Committee pursuant to F.S. 401, in subsection A., and further states, in subsection D.6., that “[a]ll activities of the Quality Assurance Committee are under the auspices of QAR activities as described in F.S. 401 and are protected from discoverability.” Immediately preceding D.6., the Rules and Regulations address review of quality assurance activities and discipline. Rule XIII, Medical Review Hearings for Due Process, establishes the inquiry and investigation procedures to be used when the OMG determines that corrective action is necessary following a complaint.
Court finds that the ALJ departed from the essential requirements of law in
denying the request by the City and the OMD to limit the subpoenas of the
Clearwater Fire Chief, Jamie D. Geer, and the Assistant Fire Chief, Jean-Pierre
B. Medani. As a paramedic and EMT
employed by the OMD, the investigation leading up to Vaughn’s termination is a
disciplinary process that is subject to the confidentiality of the QAR
process. Without the need to resort to
statutory construction, the Court finds that the plain language of section
401.425 restricts discovery of testimony and evidence produced as a result of
such an investigation. See e.g.
Baker v. State, 636 So.2d 1342, 1343 (Fla. 1994)(stating
that “[i]t is well established that construction and interpretation of a
statute are unnecessary when it is unambiguous”); see also Gallagher
section 401.425(5), does provide that Vaughn can depose Mr. Geer and Mr. Medani
about their personal knowledge and that any documents or information that Mr.
Geer and Mr. Medani may have provided to the committee from external sources is
subject to discovery. The ALJ erred in
not clarifying that the subpoenas had to be limited to such material. While there is no case law on point
interpreting section 401.425, support for this conclusion can be found in case
law interpreting section 766.101(5), which contains similar language to section
401.425(5). As discussed in Bayfront
Medical Center, Inc. v. Agency for Healthcare Administration, 741 So.2d
1226, 1229 (
Therefore, it is,
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Petition for Writ of Certiorari is granted and the Order Denying Motion to Limit Subpoenas and for Protective Order is quashed.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, at
DAVID A. DEMERS
Circuit Judge, Appellate Division
AMY M. WILLIAMS PETER RAMSBERGER
Circuit Judge, Appellate Division Circuit Judge, Appellate Division
Copies furnished to:
Dawn Siler-Nixon, Esquire
Kelly Hagan Chanfrau
Leslie K. Dougall-Sides, Esquire
Post Office Box 4748
Cynthia A. Mikos, Esquire
 Up until his termination, Vaughn had been employed full-time with the Clearwater Fire and Rescue, first as a fire fighter and, since 1986, as a paramedic.
 It was later determined that the batteries were dead because the cardiac monitor had been left on for approximately 3 hours following a previous 911 call on the same evening.
 As in this Petition, the City was permitted to intervene in the employment action below.