Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics, Inc. v. Mercury Ins. Co. of Florida (SC09-2069) provides an interesting example of a county enacting a law that the state could not. A special law applicable to one county had been enacted by the state legislature (“Lien Law”) providing that non-profit hospitals in Alachua County could perfect liens on all monies recovered by their patients in connection with events, such as accidents, that led the patients to seek medical care in the first place. Alachua County passed a county ordinance (“Ordinance”) providing for essentially the same result.

Following an accident, a patient that was struck by a car insured by Mercury was admitted to Shands Hospital. Pursuant to the Lien Law and Ordinance, Shands Hospital perfected and recorded a lien for any judgments or settlements resulting from the patient’s accident. After the lien was recorded, Mercury paid a portion of the insured’s coverage limits to the patient. Shands Hospital sued Mercury for the cost of treatment, and for impairing its lien by paying the patient policy proceeds. Mercury challenged the constitutionality of the Lien Law.

The Supreme Court struck down the state’s Lien Law, holding that it violated article III, section 11(a)(9) of the Florida Constitution, which provides that “[t]here shall be no special law or general law of local application pertaining to […] creation, enforcement, extension or impairment of liens based on private contracts, or fixing of interest rates on private contracts.”

However, the Ordinance, as it was not a special law or general law of local application, was perfectly fine. This case provides a good example of the broad powers of self-government afforded to charter counties. Charter counties, such as Alachua, have all powers that are not inconsistent with state law. Art. VIII Sec. 1(g). A non-charter county could not pass such an ordinance, as non-charter counties can only take such action that is authorized by state law. Art. VIII Sec. 1(f).

Mind Your Local Lien Laws

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