Agency Attorney Prosecuting Case Should Not Also Be in Position of Advising The Agency; Possible Bias Denies Due Process

McAlpin appealed an order of the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (“Commission”) suspending his law enforcement certification for eighteen months. The Commission filed an administrative complaint alleging misconduct during the course of a criminal investigation. A formal administrative hearing was held and a recommended order was issued.

At the Commission hearing to consider the recommended order, the attorney who prosecuted the case against McAlpin was present and offered advice to the Commission. The Commission’s staff had prepared a memorandum to the Commission recommending an increase in the recommended penalty to revocation of McAlpin’s license. It was not clear who prepared the staff memorandum. However, it was clear the prosecuting attorney had prepared exceptions to the recommended order for the agency.

On appeal, the court reversed and remanded for a new Commission hearing. While the Commission did not ultimately adopt the agency’s recommendation of an increased penalty, the court held that the staff attorney’s enhanced access to the Commission undermined the Commission’s function as an unbiased reviewer of the recommended order.

The court did note that it was not inherently inappropriate to consolidate investigative, prosecutorial and adjudicatory authority in a single agency. Each case must be considered on its unique factual background.

Source:

McAlpin v. Criminal Justice Standards and Training Comm’n, 120 So. 3d 1260 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013)(Opinion filed September 13, 2013).

About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar. It originally appeared in the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013).

 

After Investigation Has Ended, Even Investigator’s “Mental Impressions” Are Subject to Release Under Public Records Act

The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

The City of Avon Park (“City”) terminated Michael Rowan’s employment as Chief of Police. In the subsequent administrative hearing, at issue was Rowan’s investigation of certain city council members and alleged deletion of certain information from his work computer.

An investigator with the State Attorney’s Office was called in to investigate those issues; he prepared a report of his findings. The City subpoenaed the investigator to appear as a witness at the administrative hearing on Rowan’s termination, and to bring his report, which the City wanted to rely on. The State sought a circuit court order quashing the subpoena issued to the investigator. It also sought to prevent disclosure of portions of the report which constituted mental impressions of the investigator. The circuit court granted in part and denied in part the State’s petition. It concluded the investigator’s mental impressions were exempt from the Public Records Act and entered a protective order limiting the investigator’s testimony and protecting the mental-impression portions of the report.

The City appealed, arguing the report should be admissible in full and Rowan’s testimony should not be limited; Rowan cross-appealed, arguing that he should not be required to testify at all. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision excluding from evidence the portion of the report containing the investigator’s mental impressions. The court pointed to section 119.071(1)(d)1., Florida Statutes, which protects mental impressions from disclosure only until the conclusion of the litigation or adversarial administrative proceedings. In this case, the court concluded that the investigation had ended and no charges had been filed. Therefore, the investigator’s mental impressions were no longer protected.

Source:

City of Avon Park v. State of Florida, 117 So. 3d 470 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) (Opinion filed July 17, 2013).

About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar. It originally appeared in the Administrative Law Section Newsletter, Col. 36, No. 2 (Dec. 2013).

Burden of Proof in Administrative Cases Involving Discipline of a Health Professional’s License – Part 1

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I am often asked about the burden of proof that must be met by the state Department of Health (DOH) in professional licensing disciplinary cases.  This could be a complaint against a physician, dentists, mental health counselor, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist or anyone else.  It also includes, for example, engineers, general contractors, school teachers, architects, cosmetologists, or any other professional holding a professional license in Florida.  However, since we routinely represent health professionals, I will concentrate on those licenses by the state DOH in this blog.

Overview.

What few people (even attorneys) know is that cases which involve discipline against a professional’s license are treated as “punitive” or “penal” cases.  This means the standards applied to them, at least in Florida, are the same that are applied to criminal cases.

Therefore, if the statute that is being charged is unclear or ambiguous, the courts apply a “strict scrutiny” standard.  If the language of the statute does not clearly prohibit the acts being charged or is unclear about being covered by the statute, then there should be a ruling in favor of the one charged.

Additionally, rights that apply in criminal cases, such as the right to have an attorney and the right to not be compelled to be a witness against oneself found in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, also apply to administrative cases involving discipline against a license holder.

The state has a higher burden of proof in an administrative licensure case, as well.  The burden of proof that applies in a civil case, “preponderance of the evidence” (also described as the greater weight of the evidence, the preponderance of the evidence or more than fifty percent), does not apply in administrative discipline cases.  Instead a higher burden, “clear and convincing evidence” applies.  Therefore, if the evidence supports the license holder’s position, just as much as it supports the state’s case, the state loses.

How Constitutional Rights Are Involved.

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides individuals protection against self-incrimination, stating:

No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . .

Note that in Florida, as in most states, a professional license is considered to be a property right which cannot be taken by the state without due process of law.

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of Florida also provides similar protections stating:

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law . . . or be compelled in any criminal matter to be a witness against oneself.

In addition, case law in Florida has upheld as a protected right the individual’s ability to practice a profession of choice if otherwise so qualified.  To take away this right requires due process of law and reviewing courts will apply a strict scrutiny standard.

Under some states’ constitutions or state statutes there is a right to work or a right to practice the profession of one’s choice;  this further lends credibility to an argument that agency actions which take away this substantial right should require a greater burden than that required in a mere civil case (i.e., preponderance of the evidence”).  However, even without such a provision in the state constitution, a professional license (or the right to practice a profession) is a substantial right and to take it away should require a higher burden of proof (e.g., clear and convincing).

Supreme Court Gives More Protection In Cases That Are “Penal.”

The law is settled through U.S. Supreme Court cases that “penal statutes are to be construed strictly, Commissioner v. Acker, 361.U.S. 87, 80 S. Ct. 144, 4. L. Ed. 2d 127 (1959), Fed’l Comm. Comm’n v. Am.  Broadcasting Co., 347  U.S. 284, 296.  One “is not to be subjected to a penalty unless the words of the statute plainly impose it,” Keppel v. Tiffin Savings Bank, 197 U.S. 356, 362.  See, e.g., Tiffany v. National Bank of Missouri, 18 Wall. 409, 410;  Elliott v. RR Co., 99 U.S. 573, 576.

Penal statutes must be construed narrowly and are interpreted against the state.  Any part or term that is vague will not be enforced or will be stricken.  Warren v. State,  16 Fla. L. Week 1346 (Fla. 1991).  Accord, Riley v. Georgia,  219 Ga. 345, 133 S.E. 2d 367 (Ga. 1963);  State v. Morrison, 25 N.J. Super. 534, 96 A. 2d 723 (Essex Cty. Ct., N.J., 1953);  U.S. v. Ortiz, 24 M.J. 164 (CMA 1987), at 168.

Florida Courts Apply Criminal Law Rights and Protections to Cases Involving Administrative Penalties.

The Florida Supreme Court has affirmatively extended the proscription against self-incrimination to any administrative proceeding of a “penal” character.  This could be one in which the state seeks revocation or suspension of a license or one in which the state seeks a fine on a licensee.  Kozerowitz v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 289 So. 2d 391 (Fla. 1974).

Any administrative proceeding in which the state seeks to inflict a penalty against the license or the licensee would invoke these rights.  An action to revoke a professional license is penal.  So, too, is an action which results in the loss of income or a fine.

More to Come.

Be sure to check our blog regularly to learn more on the burden of proof in administrative cases involving discipline of professional licenses. Part two of this blog series will be posted soon.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers. 

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

If Denial of Licensure is Disciplinary in Nature, Then Agency Must Prove Case by “Clear and Convincing Evidence”

The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Davis Family Day Care Home (“Davis”) was issued a license as a family day care home in 2007. Davis applied annually for renewal of that license. In 2011, Davis applied for renewal of its license and also applied for a license as a large family child care home.

The Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) proposed to deny both the renewal application and the application for licensure as a large family child care home. Davis sought an administrative hearing on both denials. After an administrative hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued a recommended order recommending issuance of the renewal on a probationary basis and issuance of the large family child care home application on a provisional basis. The ALJ held that the burden of proof for the license denial was clear and convincing evidence. DCF rejected that conclusion, and provided a substituted conclusion of law that the burden of proof was by competent substantial evidence. DCF adopted the ALJ’s recommendation to renew the family day care home on a probationary basis, but denied the application for a large family child care home license.

On appeal, the court reversed and remanded. It held that DCF had misused the appellate “competent substantial evidence” standard of review as the burden of proof.

With respect to the appropriate burden on DCF, the court held that DCF must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the license should be denied, and not by a preponderance of the evidence. The court opined that the denial of the license for a large family child care home was essentially a disciplinary action since it was predicated on violations allegedly committed under the day care home license. The statute relied on by DCF authorized imposition of “disciplinary sanctions,” including denial or revocation of a license, for violations of the licensing laws. The court noted that DCF itself had acknowledged the disciplinary nature of its action, referring to its initial decision letter as an “administrative complaint.”

While recognizing that the court in Department of Banking and Finance v. Osborne Stern & Co., 670 So. 2d 932 (Fla. 2006), had applied the preponderance of the evidence burden of proof (instead of clear and convincing evidence) to license application proceedings, the court noted that section 120.57(1), Fla. Stat., had been amended since the Osborne decision. Section 120.57(1)(j), Fla. Stat., now provides that the preponderance of the evidence standard applies except in penal or disciplinary actions. In this case, the statute made clear that DCF was taking disciplinary action.

Source:

Davis Family Day Care v. Department of Children and Family Servs., 117 So. 3d 464 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) (Opinion filed July 17, 2013).

About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar. It originally appeared in the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013).

 

Burden of Proof in Administrative Cases Involving Discipline of a Health Professional’s License – Part 2

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I am often asked about the burden of proof that must be met by the state Department of Health (DOH) in professional licensing disciplinary cases. This could be a complaint against a physician, dentists, mental health counselor, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist or anyone else. It also includes, for example, engineers, general contractors, school teachers, architects, cosmetologists, or any other professional holding a professional license in Florida. However, since we routinely represent health professionals, I will continue to concentrate on those licenses by the state DOH in this blog. Click here to read part one.

Fifth Amendment Protection Against Self-Incrimination Applies.

Because potential license revocation proceedings are penal in nature, a respondent or license holder in such an investigation or administrative hearing has the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under the Florida Constitution.

Otherwise, this would defeat the spirit and intent of the constitutional protections guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United State Constitution. See, State v. Caballero, 396 So. 2d 1210, 1213 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981) (“A coerced confession offends due process of law.”); Dickerson v. U.S., 530 U.S. 428, 434, 120 S. Ct. 2326, 2331 (2000) (“We have never abandoned this due process jurisprudence, and thus continue to exclude confessions that were obtained involuntarily”); Chambers v. State of Fla., 309 U.S. 227, 228, 60 S. Ct. 472, 473 (1940) (“[U]se by a state of an improperly obtained confession may constitute a denial of due process of law as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment”); and Barnes v. Merrill, 2002 WL 1313123 (D. Me. 2002) (“Involuntary statements are inadmissible under the Fifth Amendment requirement that no person can be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case.”).

For Florida cases on point, see, Chancellor Media Whiteco Outdoor v. Fla. Dep’t of Transport., 26 Fla. L. Weekly D627 (Fla. 5th DCA March 2, 2001), substitute opinion entered on rehearing, 795 So. 2d 991, 26 Fla. L. Weekly D1894 (Fla. 5th DCA July 30, 2001). See also, State ex rel. Vining v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 281 So.2d 487, 491 (Fla. 1973); Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (“We agree that requiring Kassover to answer . . . questions does violate his right against self-incrimination which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing”).

Florida Courts Require Higher Standard for Administrative Licensure Cases.

In Florida, the courts have adopted and have required the “clear and convincing” standard to be used in any case involving a professional license, finding that such action by the state is punitive or penal in nature and affects a substantial right of the respondent. The key Florida cases that discuss this are two Florida Supreme Court cases, Florida Bar v. Rayman, 238 So. 2d 594 (Fla. 1970) and Ferris v. Turlington, 510 So. 2d 292 (Fla. 1987). See also, Kozerowitz v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 289 So. 2d 391 (Fla. 1974).

Any case in which a state administrative agency seeks a penalty, a fine or action affecting the status of a professional license, would require the application of a “clear and convincing standard.” An action to revoke a professional license is definitely considered to be penal. So too is an action which results in the loss of income, such as by suspending a license (so there is no professional income), a fine, or an order to refund professional fees. McDonald v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Bd. of Pilot Commissioners, 582 So. 2d 660 (1st DCA 1991)

Although these are all Florida cases, if you read them and follow their rationale, they go back to basic constitutional principles of due process of law and the taking away of rights or property without due process.

For example, in one case in which I defended a nursing home’s license, the state had evidence that contradicted itself. There were certain facts at issue and the state put forth two different sets of facts. The state could not prove either set of facts by “clear and convincing evidence.” Therefore, by law, the administrative law judge had to rule in favor of the license holder.

Penal Statutes, Such as Professional Discipline Statutes and Professional Practice Acts Must Be Narrowly Interpreted.

A statute is unconstitutionally void for vagueness if it fails to give a personal of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what conduct is forbidden by the Statute. Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 92 S. Ct. 839, 31 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1972). United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 74 S. Ct. 808, 98 L. Ed. 989, (1954). Criminal statutes must be written with sufficient specificity so that citizens are given fair warning of the offending conduct, and law enforcement officers are prevented from engaging in arbitrary and erratic enforcement activity. Papachristou; Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 60 S. Ct. 736, 84 L. Ed. 1093 (1940); Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S. Ct. 618, 83 L. Ed. 888 (1939).

Florida case law has long upheld this principle of the common law as well. Statutes must be written well enough so as to provide fair notice to ordinary citizens as to their exact meaning. State v. Warren, 558 So. 2d 55 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990), aff’d. Warren v. State 16 Fla., L. Week 28 (Fla. 1991).

When First Notified of a Pending Investigation Seek the Advice of an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

When you receive any notice, by telephone, by mail, by hand delivery or by information passed along by your employer, that an investigation has been opened against your professional license, immediately contact an attorney experienced in such matters. Do not talk to the investigator. Do not talk to the prosecuting attorney. Do not call the state agency and ask for advice on what you should do. Do not send a written statement explaining your side of the story.

You have important constitutional rights that protect you. But you have to exercise the common sense required to use these rights. Part of this is by obtaining competent legal counsel who can advise you and protect your rights. Again, we remind you that unless an attorney routinely handles this type of case, he or she may be unfamiliar with what your rights are in such a situation or how to handle it.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Invoking Fifth Amendment by Applicant’s Personnel May Result in Denial of Their Application for a License

The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter

FACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) denied Avalon Assisted Living III’s (“Avalon III”) application for licensure of an assisted living facility in Orlando. Avalon III challenged the denial, and the case was referred to DOAH for a formal hearing. During AHCA’s attempts to obtain discovery, two people closely associated with Avalon III (Mr. Robert Walker and Mrs. Chiqquittia Carter-Walker) invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against selfincrimination in response to questions regarding the grounds stated by AHCA in its initial decision to deny the license. These areas of inquiry included alleged unlicensed activity, the ownership and control of Avalon III, and Avalon III’s lease on the facility sought to be licensed. Based on Avalon III’s failure to provide any relevant information during three discovery depositions, AHCA filed a Motion to Dismiss on September 16, 2013. In an Order issued on September 27, 2013, the ALJ stated that dismissal of Avalon III’s petition and denial of its licensure application would be an appropriate sanction. However, in an abundance of caution, the ALJ gave Avalon III one more chance to have the Walkers answer deposition questions without invoking the Fifth Amendment. Avalon III responded to the Order by filing a notice that the Walkers would answer deposition questions regarding ownership and the lease without invoking the Fifth Amendment. Conspicuously absent from the notice was any assurance the Walkers would answer questions about the alleged unlicensed activity.

OUTCOME: The ALJ issued an Order recommending that AHCA deny Avalon III’s application. In contrast to licensure disciplinary cases in which the agency has the burden of proof, Avalon III had the burden of proving entitlement to licensure, and the Walkers were the only people with knowledge of the relevant issues. Accordingly, their refusal to answer deposition questions left Avalon III “in an untenable position,” preventing Avalon III from proving its entitlement to licensure.

Source:

Avalon’s Assisted Living III, LLC v. Agency for Health Care Administration, DOAH Case No. 09-6342 (Recommended Order Oct. 9, 2013).

About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013), a publication of the Administrative law Section of The Florida Bar.

Massage Therapists Needs Good Professional Liability Insurance, Too

00011_RT8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Whether you’re an independent contractor, an employee of a chiropractor, physician or spa, or you travel to clients’ homes, insurance is essential for all massage therapists. Not only can professional liability insurance protect you in the event of a lawsuit, but it may also pay your legal defenses in the event of a complaint against your license to practice or for other legal problems. In Florida, it is not mandatory for a massage therapist to have professional liability insurance. However, since it is so cheap, we always recommend buying coverage. It’s a small price to pay to protect your livelihood. But be sure it covers the investigation of your license.

It is now common to be able to find professional liability insurance that provides excellent coverage and excellent benefits, but costs less than a dollar a day. One policy I recently reviewed for a massage therapist included payment of all attorney’s fees and costs for defense of HIPAA privacy complaints, for defense of any complaints or investigations of the therapist’s license and for legal representation at any deposition.

The Most Important Reason to Buy Insurance: To Provide Legal Protection for a Massage Therapist’s License.

The primary reason a professional liability policy should be purchased is that this type of insurance usually includes coverage for legal defense of licensing and disciplinary action commenced against a massage therapist. It’s important to note that many massage therapists’ liability insurance includes this coverage automatically, but some policies may not. Some companies may offer this type of coverage separately to be purchased for a small additional premium.

License defense coverage pays the legal fees associated with defending a massage therapist when an investigation is initiated that may result in action against the massage therapist’s license or in administrative disciplinary action. Coverage is usually available from the time the massage therapist receives written notice that an investigation by a state agency has been initiated. It will also cover formal administrative hearings before an administrative law judge.

You should buy this coverage now, when you don’t need it. Otherwise, when you do need it, it will be too late after the problem arises.

Please Think About These Points When Buying Liability Protection.

When deciding on which professional liability insurance plan to purchase, the massage therapist should inquire as to the extent of coverage for licensing and disciplinary defense coverage. Some professional liability insurers have a “broad form” of coverage which may provide legal defense for the massage therapist in almost any type of administrative action. Other companies limit coverage to only actions that may result in disciplinary action against the massage therapist’s license. Still others provide no coverage at all except for lawsuits in professional negligence cases. The massage therapist should always attempt to get the broadest coverage available and be sure it covers disciplinary defense and licensure defense expenses.

The massage therapist should also question as to whether or not he or she will be allowed to select his or her own attorney. Many insurance companies have contracts with certain law firms to provide legal services for a reduced fee. The insurance company may require you to use one of its own contracted attorneys or in-house attorneys which it employs directly. Given the limited number of attorneys with experience in handling massage therapy law issues, it is advised to obtain coverage through a company which allows the massage therapist to choose his or her own attorney, especially for license defense.

The most important reason to purchase professional liability insurance is for the licensure defense coverage. A massage therapist does not want to risk losing his/her license because he/she was unsuccessful at defending in an investigation or did not have the resources to do so.

Question Your Coverage – Get Answers in Writing.

Since there are many different insurance companies out there selling professional liability insurance, it is important to be sure of exactly what is covered and what is not covered. Some companies provide “broad form” coverage, providing coverage for everything I discussed above, automatically. See Healthcare Provider’s Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance for example.

Other companies will provide this coverage as a “rider” for a small additional premium. Some insurers do not sell it at all, so you will have to buy it elsewhere. If you are in doubt as to your coverage, ask and get the answer in writing.

Insurance agents typically deal with a number of insurance companies. If you are using an insurance agent, be sure to specify exactly what you want. A good agent will be able to find it for you.

It’s Expensive to Defend Your License, Insurance Helps.

Legal representation is costly. To defend a simple case involving a complaint made against you, whether valid or not, can range from $3,000 to $25,000 or more. A case involving a formal hearing (similar to a trial) can cost much more than you imagine. If you are not independently wealthy and cannot afford a legal defense, you may be forced to accept discipline from the Board of Massage Therapy, even if you are completely innocent.

The rules and procedures in administrative licensing cases are not the same as cases in civil and criminal courts. An insurance policy that provides licensure defense will help the massage therapist to have the financial resources to seek out a health law attorney experienced in disciplinary cases and to obtain a fair hearing.

More Than 100 Massage Therapists’ Licenses Were Suspended in Florida.

You may remember in September of 2012, the Florida Secretary of Health signed 161 emergency suspension orders (ESOs) for massage therapists in Florida. The suspension orders were aimed at massage therapists who allegedly obtained their licenses to practice through a transcript-buying scandal at the Florida College of Natural Health. Many of these massage therapists are still fighting to keep their licenses. This is just one instance where having professional liability insurance can help save a health care professional’s livelihood. You can read more on the suspension of the 161 massage therapists’ licenses by clicking here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Massage Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to massage therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, licensing matters and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

As a massage therapist, do you have professional liability insurance? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

AHCA Expert Not Allowed to “Use His Discretion” in Deciding Claims Were Improper in Medicaid Appeal Hearing

FACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration’s (“AHCA”) Office of Medicaid Program Integrity audited Dr. Rao, an authorized provider of Medicaid services, for claims between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2009, and found him to be in violation of certain Medicaid provider policies. AHCA prepared a Final Audit Letter on June 1, 2011, notifying Dr. Rao that he had been overpaid by the Medicaid program by $110,712.09 for services provided during the audit period. Dr. Rao’s administrative hearing challenging AHCA’s overpayment determination was pending before DOAH. On August 17, 2012, Dr. Rao filed an unadopted rule challenge, alleging that AHCA’s overpayment determination was based on unadopted rules regarding the medical necessity of long-term monitored electroencephalograms (LTM EEGs).

OUTCOME: The ALJ found that AHCA’s peer review expert applied certain standards to the Medicaid claims he examined in conducting the Medicaid audit, but “exercised his discretion as to whether to apply them based on the specifics of each patient’s medical records.” The ALJ dismissed the unadopted rule challenge, explaining that “where application of agency policy is subject to the discretion of agency personnel, the policy is not a rule. . . . The medical standards at issue in this case are not self-executing and require the exercise of discretion in their application.” The ALJ noted that “the medical standards of practice must be applied on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the services provided were medically necessary, and provided both an appropriate level of care and standard of care ‘customarily furnished by the physician’s peers and to recognized health care standards” as required by section 409.9131(2)(d), Florida Statutes.

Source:

Radhakrishna K. Rao et al. v. AHCA, DOAH Case No. 12-2813RU (Final Order Aug. 20, 2013).

About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Locating a Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance Defense Attorney in Florida

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

We are sometimes told by the health professionals we represent especially pharmacists, licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), massage therapists and physical therapists that after they received a complaint regarding their license from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) they had difficulty finding an experienced attorney in Florida who would accept their professional liability insurance.  In this case, I am speaking specifically about Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance.

Benefits of HPSO Insurance.

The professionals who are covered by HPSO Insurance have excellent insurance coverage.  HPSO Insurance provides professional liability coverage that protects in the event of a lawsuit or negligence claim.  But much more often the professional receives a notice of an investigation, a subpoena for a deposition in someone else’s case, a demand because of an allegation of sexual harassment or sexual impropriety, a complaint because of a breach of medical records confidentiality or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy complaint, or some other administrative type of action.

HPSO provides great coverage for these.  For example, HPSO currently reimburses up to $10,000 in legal fees and expenses just for representation of you at depositions.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your defense in a DOH or Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) notice of investigation or complaint.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your legal representation in defense of a complaint or investigation regarding breach of medical confidentiality.

If you are a pharmacist, own a pharmacy, are a massage therapist, own an assisted living facility (ALF), are a mental health counselor or a social worker, or you are one of the many other types of health care professionals who HPSO insures, it should be fairly easy to find experienced health lawyers to represent you, especially in Florida.

Our firm and our attorneys, including George F. Indest III, Michael L. Smith, Joanne Kenna, Carole C. Schriefer, Lance O. Leider, Christopher E. Brown and Danielle M. Murray, routinely represent licensed health care professionals, interns and students in all types of administrative investigations and hearings and in defending lawsuits and other actions that have been filed.  We also represent health facilities in license defense, survey complaints and administrative hearings.  We represent them throughout Florida, from Pensacola, to Jacksonville, to Key West.  We also occasionally represent them in other states, as well.  We accept HPSO Insurance assignments.

Free Legal Advice: Get Insurance Immediately.

It is very important for every health professional to carry insurance that covers any investigation, complaint or administrative hearing that might be filed or opened against your license.  You may think that you are covered for this by your employer, but you are not.  If your employer contradicts this, ask for a statement in writing that your employer will pay for your legal defense for any such matter arising during your employment.

What typically happens, especially in the case of a hospital employee, nursing home employee, pharmacy employee or corporate employee, is that the employer is the one who terminates the employee and then files a complaint with the DOH.  The DOH then opens an investigation against the health professional.  The employer is not going to pay your legal defense costs if the employer has reported you.

You may very well be out of work, out of money and face an investigation and complaint that could terminate your professional license and career.  You should not take this chance.  Insurance such as HPSO Insurance is inexpensive and reliable.  Buy it while you can afford it. After the actions have occurred, it is too late.

Find an Experience Health Law Attorney in the Event of an Investigation.

Also, you should immediately contact an experienced health law attorney if you are telephoned or visited by any investigator, or if you receive a letter advising you that an investigation has been opened regarding your care.  Call immediately for advice before you speak with an investigator or provide any documents or statements of any kind.

You cannot and should not seek “legal advice” on what to do from the investigator, from a DOH employee, from your professional board or from any attorney representing any of them.  They are not your friends.  They are on the side against you. You should definitely not take any advice from them.

Do Not Skimp on Insurance Coverage.

If you have good insurance, it will pay for your legal expenses from the very beginning, so use it.  However, beware of cheap insurance policies from professional associations that do not provide any coverage for disciplinary complaints and licensure investigations.  Always check to be sure this is covered.  Get it in writing.  With some companies you have to pay an extra premium to obtain this coverage.  With some insurers, they do not offer it, and you have to purchase a completely separate policy covering just this.  It is worth it!  Do it!

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

Our firm regularly represents pharmacists, massage therapists, mental health counselors, registered nurses, assisted living facilities, home health agencies, nurse practitioners, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, physician assistants, psychologists and other health professionals in many different legal matters.

Services we provide include representation before your professional board, in DOH investigations, in administrative hearings, in civil litigation, in defense of malpractice claims, in professional licensing matters, in defense of allegations concerning HIPAA privacy violations and medical record breaches, in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actions, and in many other matters.

We routinely represent physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, and others in defending against malpractice claims, civil lawsuits, administrative complaints, peer review actions, DOH investigations, Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, and other matters. In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company.  If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

We also defend health professionals and health facilities in general litigation matters and business litigation matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Do you have professional liability insurance? Why or why not. Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Physician Argues Definition of “Peer” at Formal Administrative Hearing

peer reviewFACTS: The Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) is responsible for administering Florida’s Medicaid program and conducting investigations and audits of paid claims to ascertain if Medicaid providers have been overpaid. With regard to investigations of physicians, section 409.9131, Florida Statutes, provides that AHCA must have a “peer” evaluate Medicaid claims before the initiation of formal proceedings by AHCA to recover overpayments. Section 409.9131(2)(c) defines a “peer” as “a Florida licensed physician who is, to the maximum extent possible, of the same specialty or subspecialty, licensed under the same chapter, and in active practice.” Section “109.9131(2)(a) deems a physician to be in “active practice” if he or she has “regularly provided medical care and treatment to patients within the past two years.”

Alfred Murciano, M.D., treats patients who are hospitalized in Level III neonatal intensive care units and pediatric intensive care units in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County hospitals. His practice is limited to pediatric infectious disease. He has been certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in two areas: General Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases. AHCA initiated a review of Medicaid claims submitted by Dr. Murciano between September 1, 2008, and August 31, 2010, and referred those claims to Richard Keith O’Hern, M.D., for peer review. Dr. O’Hern practiced medicine for 37 years, and was engaged in a private general pediatric practice until he retired in December of 2012. During the course of his career, he was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in General Pediatrics, completed a one-year infectious disease fellowship at the The University of Florida, and treated approximately 16,000 babies with infectious disease issues. However, he was never board certified in pediatric infectious diseases, and at the time he reviewed Dr. Murciano’s Medicaid claims, Dr. O’Hern would have been ineligible for board certification in pediatric infectious diseases. In addition, Dr. O’Hern would have been unable to treat Dr. Murciano’s hospitalized patients in Level III NICUs and PICUs.

After Dr. O’Hern’s review, AHCA issued a Final Agency Audit Report alleging Dr Murciano had been overpaid by $l,051.992.99, and that he was required to reimburse AHCA for the overpayment. In addition, AHCA stated it was seeking to impose a fine of $210,398.60.

OUTCOME: Dr. Murciano argued at the formal administrative hearing that Dr O’Hern was not a “peer” as that term is defined in section 409.9131(20)(c). The ALJ agreed and issued a Recommended Order on May 22, 2014, recommending that AHCA’s case be dismissed because it failed to satisfy a condition precedent to initiating formal proceedings. While recognizing that AHCA is not required to retain a reviewing physician with the exact credentials as the physician under review, the ALJ concluded Dr. O’Hern was not of the same specialty as Dr. Murciano.

On July 31, 2014, AHCA rendered a Partial Final Order rejecting the ALJ’s conclusion that Dr. O’Hern was not a “peer.” In the course of ruling that it has substantive jurisdiction over such conclusions and that its interpretation of section 409.9131(2)(c), Florida Statutes, is entitled to deference, AHCA stated that it interprets the statute “to mean that the peer must practice in the same area as Respondent, hold the same professional license as Respondent, and be in active practice like Respondent.” AHCA concluded that “Dr. O’Hern is indeed a ‘peer’ of Respondent under the Agency’s interpretation of Section 409.9131(2)(c), Florida Statutes, because he too has a Florida medical license, is a pediatrician and had an active practice at the time he reviewed Respondent’s records. That Dr. O’Hern did not hold the same certification as Respondent, or have a professional practice identical to Respondent in no way means he is not a ‘peer’ of Respondent.” AHCA’s rejection of the ALJ’s conclusion of law regarding Dr. O’Hern’s “peer” status caused AHCA to remand the case back to the ALJ to make the factual findings on the claimed overpayments that were not made in the Recommended Order because of the ALJ’s conclusion that Dr. O’Hern did not qualify as a “peer.”

On August 18, 2014, the ALJ issued an Order respectfully declining AHCA’s remand. AHCA then filed a Petition for writ of Mandamus in the First District Court of Appeal, asking the court to direct the ALA to accept the remand and to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law with regard to each overpayment claim. The court assigned case number 1D14-3836 to AHCA’s Petition, and the case is pending.
Source:

AHCA v. Alfred Murciano, M.D., DOAH Case No. 13-0795MPI (Recommended Order May 22, 2014), AHCA Rendition No. 14-687-FOF-MDO (Partial Final Order July 31, 2014)
About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in the DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Dec. 2014), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

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