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Ex-Fla. nursing home ombudsman's lawsuit expanded

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's ousted long-term care ombudsman on Monday added new accusations to his lawsuit alleging that Gov. Rick Scott forced his resignation at the urging of the nursing home industry.

Brian Lee originally accused the Department of Elder Affairs of violating the state's "whistleblower" law by ousting him to retaliate for his advocacy on behalf of long-term care residents. The department gave him the choice of resigning or being fired after the agency received a letter from Scott's office saying it was time for Lee to go.

Lee's initial lawsuit also accused two trade organizations of interfering with a business relationship by damaging his reputation, which cost him employment opportunities.

The amended complaint also alleges all three defendants violated a law against interference with an ombudsman's duties and that he was defamed by the Florida Health Care Association.

The defendants have 20 days to respond to the amended complaint, which also retains the original allegations.

Lee was forced out in February after the association urged Scott to replace him.

His ouster also came after he used the new federal health care law, which Scott has forcefully opposed, to seek nursing homes' ownership and management information.

His request for the data was rescinded after his ouster.

In response to the original complaint, the state contended that even if true, Lee's allegations don't violate the whistleblower law.

The association argued the original complaint failed to state a cause of action on the business relationship allegation because the group's criticism of Lee was protected by free speech guarantees of the First Amendment.

The third defendant, the Florida Assisted Living Association, also argued that Lee's original suit failed to state a cause of action, calling it "a morass of unsubstantiated and baseless allegations as well as blind conclusory statements." It also noted that its members are not nursing homes.

Circuit Judge James Shelfer called off a hearing set for Monday on the defendants' motions to dismiss the lawsuit after Lee's lawyer, Marie Mattox, filed the amended complaint.

It says Lee "has suffered injury, including but not limited to past and future wage losses, loss of benefits," as a result of the plaintiffs' alleged interference with his ombudsman's duties.

Lee, now executive director of a private long-term care advocacy group, served under Republican Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist before he resigned a month after Scott took office.

A federal investigation concluded Lee's ouster violated the spirit but not the letter of the U.S. Older Americans Act.

Ex-Fla. nursing home ombudsman's lawsuit expanded 11/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 28, 2011 11:37pm]

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