Former FL ombudsman files suit against providers, state

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Brian Lee
Brian Lee
A high-profile ousted Florida ombudsman has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, the Florida Health Care Association and the Florida Assisted Living Association for alleged whistle-blower retaliation and tortuous interference in a business relationship.

Brian Lee is seeking damages for “significant emotional distress and mental pain and suffering.” His lawsuit states that in January, members of FHCA (specifically lobbyist Robert Azstalos) told Lee they wanted to “work with someone with closer ties to the industry” and that both the association and FALA made their concerns known to Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL). In late January, Lee sent letters to 677 nursing homes in the state, asking for ownership information. He says that because of the requests he was forced to resign.

The lawsuit was “the next step in remedies available,” Lee told McKnight's. “There were federal and state violations that occurred. I want justice for myself and for the ombudsman position in its ability to autonomously safeguard resident rights.”

The FHCA and FALA are accused of tortuous interference, specifically Azstalos and FALA Executive Director Pat Lange advocating for Lee's dismissal.

In addition to the tortuous interference claim, Lee's lawsuit says that as an employee of the state, Lee was protected under Florida's Whistle-blower Retaliation laws in reporting any malfeasance on the part of nursing home owners. He was a “victim of retaliatory actions” by the Department of Elder Affairs, according to the suit.

The department, FHCA and FALA all have filed separate motions to dismiss the case. In the department's motion, General Counsel Dean C. Kowalchyk wrote Lee's suit “fails to plead the requisite and sufficient ultimate facts to support a whistle-blower claim.”

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