Burton v. Florida

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Burton v. Florida
Case Title Samantha BURTON, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee. No. 1D09-1958.
Date 2010/08/12
Appealed Yes
Personal Information
Link to Ruling
Country/Jurisdiction United States
State or Province
Regulatory Bodies
Decided Yes
Related Laws Constitution - Amendment VI

Short Summary

Burton v. Florida, Samantha Burton, a mother of two, was twenty-five weeks pregnant in March 2009 when she experienced a premature rupture of membranes and displayed signs of premature labor. At the urging of her obstetrician, she sought care at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. She found not to be in labor, but ordered to remain on bed rest.


Dubreuil proceedings (state legal proceedings used to compel a pregnant woman to undergo medical confinement, treatment, and procedures against her wishes for the benefit of the unborn fetus) were initiated against Burton on a finding that she had ignored her physician’s recommendations, creating a high-risk pregnancy that may result in the death of her baby. A Florida circuit court ordered Burton to forced medial treatment and confinement in a hospital until delivery. Holding that such a determination was inappropriate, the Court reasoned that all individuals have a fundamental right to privacy. The Court explained that Dubreuil proceedings were insufficient to compel a pregnant woman to forcibly undergo medical detention and treatment for the benefit of her unborn child. To overcome Burton’s right to refuse medical intervention in her pregnancy, the State must show a compelling interest and a method for pursuing that interest that is narrowly tailored. The State had failed to do so.

David H. Abrams, a nurse attorney, appealed the Leon County Circuit Court ruling and the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union joined as Amicus. On August 12, 2010, the Florida Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued its ruling, written by Nikki Clark, in favor of Burton and against the State. The Court rejected the State of Florida's argument that the best interest of the child standard applied. The Court ruled that Ms. Burton had fundamental rights to privacy and liberty under the Florida Constitution and that those rights were subject to strict scrutiny review. While the Court did not hold that the State could never intervene in a woman's pregnancy it limited such intervention to instances where fetal viability was proven by the state and rejected the argument that viability is set by gestational age of the fetus. The Court further held that once the State had proven viability it must then show that the proposed intervention is the least intrusive and least restrictive means possible of protecting the State's interest in the fetus.


Holding that such a determination was inappropriate, the Court reasoned that all individuals have a fundamental right to privacy.