Third-Party Access to Dependency Records Got a Little Easier Yesterday

Plant City, being sued for wrongful death, sought access to the decedent child’s dependency records. The dependency court denied the request, balancing the child’s privacy against the city’s interests. Not right, says the Second DCA:

In this case, the dependency court abused its discretion by failing to apply the test established in section 39.0132(3). The statute does not require a third party seeking to inspect dependency court records to prove that its interest in doing so is compelling or that it outweighs the child’s privacy interest. When enacting the statute, the legislature has already weighed the interests at issue and determined that those with a “proper” interest in inspecting the records shall be permitted to do so. In the context of the statute as a whole, the test requires a third party seeking to inspect dependency court records to demonstrate that doing so will serve a legitimate and appropriate interest that differs from that of the public at large.

The City made such a showing here. It is the defendant in a wrongful death suit that seeks to recover damages on the child’s behalf. The child’s recovery may include damages for loss of support and services determined in part by her relationship with her mother, “lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance[,] and for mental pain and suffering.” See § 768.21(1), (3), Fla. Stat. (2008). Certainly, the City has a legitimate, appropriate interest in discovering facts that will permit it to assess the damages claimed against it, for purposes of either defending itself or engaging in settlement negotiations.

In re J.B.
— So.3d —-, 2012 WL 5935665
Fla.App. 2 Dist.,2012.
November 28, 2012 (Approx. 3 pages)

 

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