The state won’t end up on the hook for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida‘s legal fees, according to an appellate court decision released Thursday.
The health care organization had sought to punish the Agency for Health Care Administration by making it pay the group’s attorney fees after filing “administrative complaints … alleging violations of (its) license to perform abortions.”
The state eventually “voluntarily dismissed the complaints,” according to the opinion. But an administrative law judge still ordered an evidentiary hearing on the fees question.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said that judge overstepped his bounds, “depart(ing) from the essential requirements of the law.”
Citing case law, Judges Brad Thomas, T. Kent Wetherell II and M. Kemmerly Thomas said he didn’t have authority to order a hearing “because the case was voluntarily dismissed” and thus Planned Parenthood can’t be considered a “prevailing party.”
The case began last year after the agency, under Gov. Rick Scott, said Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers were wrongfully providing second-trimester abortions.
Planned Parenthood lawyers had argued AHCA was incorrectly defining the beginning and end of trimesters and that the organization was innocent of any wrongdoing.