ACLU Disappointed by Court of Appeals Decision Upholding Seizure of Medical Records in Rush Limbaugh Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 6, 2004 12:00 am

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Ruling Affects Medical Privacy of Millions of Florida Residents

MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today said that it is disappointed by a state appeals court ruling that state law enforcement officers properly confiscated Rush Limbaugh’s medical records as part of a criminal investigation involving alleged “doctor-shopping.”

“Rush Limbaugh’s celebrity status is secondary to the fundamental privacy issues that arise in this case,” said ACLU of Florida Legal Director Randall Marshall. “What’s at stake here is the medical privacy of millions of people in Florida and the need to protect people against unnecessary government intrusion into their medical records.”

In a 2-1 decision issued today, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that: “? the constitutional right of privacy in medical records is not implicated by the State’s seizure and review of medical records under a valid search warrant without prior notice or hearing.”

“We are disappointed the court failed to recognize the importance of protecting the intensely private information that is contained in medical records,” said John May, who is lead counsel on behalf of the ACLU. “We intend to do everything we can to vigorously argue in favor of strengthening privacy protections for every person in Florida.”

In February, the ACLU of Florida filed a friend-of-the-court brief in partial support of the conservative radio commentator, arguing that law enforcement officers violated state law by using the more intrusive search warrant process to seize Limbaugh’s medical records, rather than by obtaining a subpoena through the proper procedures outlined Florida Statute § 395.3025. The state statute requires law enforcement officers to notify the person whose medical records they seek to obtain and to give that person the opportunity to object before the records are seized.

The law also gives a judge the authority to release only the information that is necessary for the investigation and to control the use or dissemination of those records. The statute was passed by the Florida Legislature to specifically address heightened concerns about medical privacy.

“Regardless of which law enforcement tools are used – whether a subpoena or a search warrant – safeguards must be put in place to justify giving the state access to the intensely personal information contained in medical records,” Marshall said.

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