Philip Dennison vs. Halifax Staffing, Inc.
In a 2-1 decision, the majority affirms the trial court's ruling that Halifax Staffing is not a private employer subject to the Florida Private Whistle-blower Act. The ruling reads:
"... Halifax Staffing does not fall within the Florida Private Whistle-blower Act’s definition of “employer.” ... the trial court properly granted final summary judgment in Halifax Staffing’s favor."
To get to this decision, the majority set out to decide whether or not Halifax Staffing is a private employer.
To support his argument, Dennison provided a 2014 Florida Supreme Court decision. It was about at a corporation that was contracted to operate and manage a public hospital. The majority reviewed it and felt the issues between the cases were too different. They determined the 2014 decision offered by Dennison was not relevant to this case.
The majority found no legal precedent or Florida Statute to support Dennison's argument that Halifax Staffing could only be viewed as a public entity if it was created by the Legislature.
Instead, the majority considered the specifics of Halifax Staffing's history. It's created, controlled, and funded by a public entity. It has a public purpose. It's administered by government appointees. Its profits do not benefit any private person. This is why they agree with the the trial court. Halifax Staffing is not a private entity. It is not subject to the Florida Private Whistle-blower Act, meaning Dennison can't sue them for violating the Act.
Dissent: Judge Jacobus
"The test is simple, there can be no confusion as to whether a corporation is public or private. Halifax Staffing, Inc. ... is a private corporation."
Jacobus finds his answer in the 2014 Florida Supreme Court decision provided by Dennison. He says the decision states the test for determining if an entity is public or private is in how it was created. If it was created by the Legislature, it is a public corporation. If it was created as a non-profit under Chapter 617, it is a private corporation.
Because Halifax Staffing was created as a non-profit under Chapter 617, it is a private corporation.
He would have reversed the trial court's decision so the trial could proceed.
Dennison worked at Halifax Staffing. He says he found billing discrepancies for Medicare/Medicaid patients. He believed there was an intent to defraud the government, and he reported it to his bosses. He was suspended and then fired.
Dennison believes Halifax Staffing fired him in retaliation. He sued for a violation of the Florida Private Whistle-Blower's Act (the Act). In response, Halifax Staffing said it could not be sued for a violation of the Act. Only private companies can be sued for a violation of the Act, and it claims it is not a private company.
Based on this argument, Halifax Staffing asked for a judgement without a trial. The trial judge agreed, and Halifax Staffing won. Dennison appealed the decision. He argued that Halifax Staffing isn't a public entity because it was not created by the Legislature.
Background Information Provided by Halifax Staffing
- The Legislature created Halifax Hospital Medical Center (the Center). It was to create and maintain medical facilities and services. The Legislature described it as a "public purpose" and was "necessary for the general welfare of the residents".
- In 1993, the Center wanted to create a non-profit corporation to provide staffing and management services. It asked the Attorney General if it was able to, and he said yes. It also asked if the employees would be able to participate in Florida's public retirement plan. He said no.
- Based on the Attorney General's opinion, the Center created Halifax Staffing.
- Halifax Staffing's Board is shared with the Center's Board of Commissioners. That Board is made up of public officials appointed by the Governor.
- The net earnings do not go to any administrator or private person (except for reasonable compensation).
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