Miami can again require a $100 surcharge for ambulance service to nonresidents.
The Third District Court of Appeal on Wednesday reinstated the fee by reversing a lower court ban on the surcharge. The appellate panel ordered summary judgment for the city, allowing Miami to reinstate the fee instead of remanding the case to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marc Schumacher.
“Requiring nonresidents, who use and personally benefit from the service provided to them by the city, to pay an additional $100 for the service furthers the city’s interest of being able to continue providing emergency transportation services to everyone in need of the services, regardless of whether the person is a resident or nonresident,” Judge Leslie B. Rosenberg wrote for the unanimous panel. Judges Vance E. Salter and Thomas Logue concurred.
City Attorney Victoria Mendez said it was unclear whether the city would wait to reinstate the surcharge pending a possible appeal.
“The opinion upheld the fee charged to non-Miami residents for emergency medical transportation services,” she said. “It upheld the fact it was a user fee and not a tax. Moreover, the opinion stated that the fee did not violate equal protection or unconstitutionally burden intrastate travel.” She commended Deputy City Attorney John Greco, who argued the appeal.
William Wolk of Eaton & Wolk in Miami, who represented the plaintiffs with Randy Rosenblum of Freidin Dobrinsky Brown & Rosenblum in Miami, said he was considering taking the case to the Florida Supreme Court.
“I’m extraordinarily disappointed,” he said. “I think the decision is wrongly decided, and I think it conflicts with Florida Supreme Court precedent. It hurts every single tourist and every single traveler to the city of Miami. Those are the people who have to pay extra if they get hurt.”
The case was filed by Cheryl Haigley, a St. Petersburg resident who was injured during a 2010 visit. A city ambulance took her to Mercy Hospital.
Haigley paid $330 for basic services plus $15 for mileage and the $100 surcharge.
The city began the surcharge back in 1992 as a result of rising emergency medical service costs.
In 2011, Haigley filed a class action against the city, seeking a declaration that the surcharge is unconstitutional because it violates the right to intrastate travel and the guarantee of equal protection under the Florida Constitution.
The suit also alleged the surcharge was an unauthorized tax, not a user fee. It sought the return of all nonresident surcharges collected by the city in the four years before the suit.
Last year, Schumacher entered final summary judgment for the plaintiffs, striking down the city ordinance that had been in effect for 21 years.
According to city records, 34,435 nonresidents were charged the fee from 2007 to 2010. Yet the city only collected $143,573, limiting the class to 1,435 claimants. Wolk said the reason the number of plaintiffs was so low was the refusal of insurance companies to pay the surcharge, leaving just the uninsured to do so.