The Florida Department of Health on Thursday appealed an administrative law judge's decision that the agency was using an invalid rule in determining whether trauma centers should be approved.

The case stems from a dispute in which Jacksonville and Tampa Bay-area hospitals are trying to block approval of new trauma centers at hospitals in Clay, Pasco and Manatee counties.

Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins sided with the Jacksonville and Tampa Bay hospitals last month, saying the department was using an outdated rule in evaluating proposed trauma centers. The department filed a notice of appeal Thursday in the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Also, it has said the disputed rule remains in effect while the appeal is pending.

The department faces a Nov. 1 deadline for taking action on trauma applications by Orange Park Medical Center in Clay County, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County and Blake Medical Center in Manatee County.