Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals recently issued a written ruling denying Rush Limbaugh's request to suppress medical records, which were seized in connection with the government’s investigation into his reported drug use.
In October 2003, Limbaugh announced that he was addicted to painkillers and that he was voluntarily entering into a drug treatment program. By that time, however, Limbaugh’s former housekeeper had already sold a story to the National Enquirer claiming her boss had been illegally buying painkillers from her.
While investigating the housekeeper's statements, the government began to suspect that, in addition to buying pills from her, Limbaugh engaged in the practice of “doctor shopping” -- going from doctor to doctor with the intention of finding one who would prescribe him more painkillers. Such practice is a felony in Florida.
After obtaining a search warrant, authorities seized Limbaugh’s medical records in November and December of last year, as well as prescription records from drug stores where he obtained the painkillers. Those records showed that Limbaugh obtained approximately 2,000 pills over a three-month period.
Limbaugh challenged the seizure, claiming the government’s failure to give notice or to issue a subpoena requesting the records gave him no opportunity to challenge the request and therefore violated his Fourth Amendment privacy rights. In response, the government claimed giving notice or issuing a subpoena would have impeded the investigation by giving Limbaugh the opportunity to destroy evidence. Ultimately, the government won, with the court concluding that the seizure of the records did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Limbaugh will have the opportunity to petition for a rehearing on the suppression request in the near future. Incidentally, he has received unexpected support from the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims the government’s practice serves to threaten doctor-patient confidentiality.