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Florida Second DCA rules that hospital was entitled to claim sovereign immunity in class action claiming it illegally asserted an unconstitutional lien; there was no “illegal extraction” because lien was claimed before county lien statute was found unconstitutional

On September 25, 2020, in Lee Memorial Health System v. Hilderbrand, et al., No. 2D19-4722, a class action case in which the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant hospital had wrongly collected amounts due for medical services under a claim of the authority of the Lee County lien statute, the Florida Second DCA reversed a trial court ruling which had denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity. Both the Second DCA and the Florida Supreme Court had previously declared the lien statute unconstitutional in Lee Mem'l Health Sys. v. Progressive Select Ins. Co., 230 So. 3d 558, 560, 564 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) affirmed by Lee Mem'l Health Sys. v. Progressive Select Ins. Co., 260 So. 3d 1038, 1045 (Fla.2018). However, the Second DCA concluded that this did not affect the collection of the medical bill payments because at the time that the defendant asserted the lien the statute had not yet been found unconstitutional. Since the defendant did not refuse to follow a direct legislative mandate or ignore an established law, its actions could not constitute an “illegal extraction” which would deny the defendants the protection of sovereign immunity. See Bill Stroop Roofing, Inc. v. Metropolitan Dade County, 788 So. 2d 365, 366-67 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001) (county could not claim sovereign immunity for registration fee that was charged in violation of a statute that prohibited it).

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