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In Florida You Have Fifth Amendment Rights in a Department of Health Investigation of Your License

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

If you are contacted by a Florida Department of Health investigator, did you know that you are not required to make a statement or give any information that can be used against you?  If you are being investigated you have a right to refuse to speak with an investigator pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the equivalent rights given by the Florida Constitution, Article 1, Section 9.  However, because the Miranda decision does not apply to administrative proceedings, including licensure investigations, the DOH investigator does not have to inform you of this.

In some states other than Florida, the state’s law is such that a nurse, physician, dentist or other licensed health care professional is required to “cooperate” with the investigation, even though he or she may be punished or lose their license as a result.  THIS IS NOT THE CASE IN FLORIDA.

Florida Licensing Investigations Are Considered to Be “Penal” or “Quasi-criminal” in Nature.

Florida licensing investigations are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature.  In Florida, a professional’s license is considered to be a property right.  So you also have the constitutional right not to be deprived of it without due process of law.  Due Process of law is guaranteed not only by the Florida and U.S. constitutional provisions cited above, but also by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. ConstitutionDue process of law includes the right to be represented by an attorney in any proceedings that might be initiated that may result in your losing your license.

In Florida, a long history of legal cases has resulted in the common law rule that administrative proceedings that may result in loss of a license must afford all of the protections that a criminal defendant would have in a criminal case.

Case Law in Florida.

In a 2004 case involving the Florida Department of Health, the Florida First District Court of Appeal stated:

Initially, it should not be forgotten that because professional disciplinary statutes are penal in nature, they must be strictly construed with any ambiguity interpreted in favor of the licensee. See Ocampo v. Dep’t of Health, 806 So. 2d 633, 634 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002);  Elmariah v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Board of Med., 574 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990).

Cone v. Dep’t of Health, 886 So. 2d 1007, 1011 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004).

The Florida Supreme Court confirmed that a licensee could assert a Fifth Amendment right in administrative proceedings in the 1973 case of State ex rel. Vining v. Florida Real Estate Commission, 281 So.2d 487 (1973).

In Vining a real estate broker was charged by the Florida Real Estate Commission of violating the Real Estate License Law.  Id. at 488.  The broker filed a sworn answer, as he was required to do under Florida Statute Section 475.30(1).  Id.  The broker later argued that the Florida statute violated his right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution.  Id.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed, holding that “the right to remain silent applies not only to the traditional criminal case, but also to proceedings ‘penal’ in nature in that they tend to degrade the individual’s professional standing, professional reputation or livelihood.”  Id. at 491 (citing Spevack v. Klein, 385 U.S. 511, 87 S.Ct. 625, 17 L.Ed.2d 574 (1967);  Stockham v. Stockham, 168 So. 2d 320 (Fla. 1964)).  More recently, courts have reaffirmed that Vining remains good law in Florida.  See Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993);  Scott v. Department of Professional Regulation, 603 So. 2d 519, 520 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992).

In Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993), for example, the Court of Appeal reiterated the ability of a defendant to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege in an administrative proceeding.  Best Pool involved a pool owner filing actions for negligence and breach of contract against a pool maintenance contractor and its president.  The circuit court required the president to answer questions at his deposition about his certifying to the county, in an application for license, that the contractor had liability insurance.  The Court of Appeal ruled that the president was allowed to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege with regard to questions on this issue.  The court stated in Best Pool: “requiring Kassover, the president, to answer these questions does violate his right against self incrimination, which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing.  Id. at 66.

There are many other cases which have held the same.

You Must Be Extremely Cautious When Dealing with a DOH Investigator or Any Investigator.

If you receive notice that a DOH disciplinary investigation has been opened against you, you may not even realize it or understand how serious the consequences may be.  The notice comes in the form of a simple letter or, more often nowadays, a phone call, followed by a letter.  The letter will be on Florida Department of Health letterhead and will, in most cases,  be signed by a person whose job title is “Medical Malpractice Investigator,” “Quality Assurance Investigator” or some other title that might throw you off.

If you think you are giving information to be used in connection with a true quality assurance matter, such as would be confidential and privileged in a hospital or health institution, think again.  This is an investigation that could result in your having to pay thousands of dollars in fines, thousands of dollars in investigative costs and suspension or loss of your license.  Worse yet are the other consequences that having discipline on your professional license will bring, including difficulty in obtaining employment, reports being made to national data banks, etc.  Please see some of the other articles we have on our blog and on our website about all of the unforeseen consequences of discipline on your license.

Have You Been Told the Investigation Is Not Aimed at You?  Watch Out!

Even if the investigator attempts to ensure you that the investigation is not aimed at you, watch out!  It may not be aimed at you today, but it may be aimed at you tomorrow.  Additionally, even if the particular investigation that you are being questioned about is not directed against you, there may be another investigation that has been opened against you.  Your statement can and will be sued against you in that other investigation.

I was told by a DOH investigator one time that my clients (who were a director of nursing (DON), assistant director of nursing (ADON), an administrator and a medical director) were not being investigated, but that another health professional was.  My clients cooperated and gave statements for use in the investigation of the other person.  A short time later, additional investigations were opened against all of them, too.  Fortunately we eventually had all of the charges against all of them dismissed.  But I have not trusted investigators since then.

Don’t Wait Until it is Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Representing Health Professionals Now.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent nurses, ARNPs, CRNAs, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, massage therapists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacists, pharmacies, home health agencies, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare providers in licensing investigations, regulatory matters, in board actions and in administrative hearings.  Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website 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.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine.  This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

Dentists File Lawsuits Against Supply Distributors Alleging Violations of Antitrust Statues

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

Several dentists have joined together to file suits against leading dental supply distributors in New York and Texas federal courts alleging the companies jointly conspired to keep prices artificially inflated. Five lawsuits have been filed since Wednesday, January 20, 2016, against Patterson Cos. Inc. (Patterson), Henry Schein Inc. (Henry Schein) and Benco Dental Supply Co. (Benco). These companies are alleged to have control over 80 percent of the distribution channel for dental supplies. Among other allegations, lawsuits allege that the established dental supply distributors schemed to intimidate and squelch newer distributors that offer better (lower) prices in order to maintain exclusive control over the market.

Law360 reported that the suits seem to be partially triggered by a recent settlement reached with Benco announced by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on April 10, 2015. The settlement cost Benco a good amount totaling $300,000, in order to avoid further participation in anticompetitive activities and instituted an antitrust training program for the company.

To read the Plaintiff’s Original Petition filed by the state of Texas against Benco, click here.

To read the full Agreed Final Judgement and Stipulated Injuction Between the State of Texas and Benco Dental Supply, click here.

To read the press release issued by the Texas Attorney General’s office, click here.

Alleged Antitrust Violations and Intimidation Tactics.

The lawsuits alleged that the three dominant distributor companies retained a firm grip on their dominance in the market by engaging in the intimidation of state dental associations. These associations were purportedly threatened by Patterson, Henry Shein and Benco in order to keep their prevalent supremacy in the supply of dental products. The associations were told that if they were to endorse startup distributors they would risk trade-show boycotts. Furthermore, the three established companies threatened to withhold their business if such manufacturers engaged in business with beginning distributors.

As stated by one class action suit filed by Dr. Keith Schwartz, D.M.D., P.A., in Texas federal court on Sunday, January 24, 2016, “At all relevant times Defendants possessed market power–the ability to profitably raise prices significantly above competitive levels while not losing sales […] Defendants abused their dominant collective market power by privately communicating and reaching an agreement to engage in an anticompetitive scheme to foreclose and impair competition, maintain and enhance market power, and artificially inflate prices of dental supplies above competitive levels.” The complaint further stated, “If new, low-cost distributors had not been unlawfully prevented from partnering with state dental associations and/or dental supplies manufacturers, they would have emerged as significant competitors.”

To read the complaint in the Texas federal suit, click here.

The complaints contain similar allegations, and all seek restitution on behalf of dentists suffering damages due to the alleged overcharging for supplies from the three monopolostic distributors since January 2012. More than 135,000 dental practices in the United States are said to be affected by the distributors’ alleged Sherman Act Violations. To read more about the Sherman Act from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), click here. The complaints reported that investigations into one or more of the three distributors have already been initiated by the FTC.

State Regulatory Boards Have Recently Been in Hot Water Over Antitrust Laws As Well.

The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners recently went up against the FTC in a Supreme Court case decided on February 25, 2015. The Supreme Court justices were charged with determining whether professional regulatory boards should be exempt from federal antitrust laws and thus be allowed to eliminate low-cost competitors. Justice Kennedy concluded that immunity was not available because the Board was controlled by “active market participants” and their decision to block services was not “actively supervised” by the state.

To read my prior blog on this case, click here.

To read the full decision by the Supreme Court, click here.

Comments?

Are you currently being investigated by the FTC for possible antitrust violations?

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 lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations and at Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine hearings. We represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, in patient complaints and in Department of Health investigations.

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

Sources:

Class Action Complaint 11:39 & 45, Jan. 24, 2016.

Overly, Jeff. “Dentists Pull Together to Sue Supply Distributors.” Law360. Portfolio Media Inc.: 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

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.

KeyWords: dental class action suit, Sherman Act, antitrust violations defense attorney, Supreme Court antitrust decision, North Carolina dental regulatory board, Board of Dentistry, dentist lawyer, dental distributor companies, dental supplies, Board of Dental Examiners, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), federal atitrust lawyer, administrative law judge (ALJ), American Medical Association, suppression of competition, state board of medicine, state board of dentistry, American Dental Association, Federation of State Medical Boards, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, federal antitrust laws, health defense attorney, health defense lawyer, legal representation for dentists, health law firm, The Health Law Firm

The Health Law Firm will soon be transitioning all blogs to the website. Please visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com to continue reading and be sure to check back regularly.

“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 © 1996-2016 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Administrative Final Orders Must State Findings of Fact Based on the Evidence Presented

Attorney George F. Indest III HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law

Following is a summary of a recent appellate case on an issue relevant to health law:

Borges v. Dep’t of Health, 143 So. 3d 1185 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014).
Gustavo Borges (Borges) appealed a final order of the Florida Board of Dentistry that revoked his license to practice dentistry based on a conviction of the knowing receipt of child pornography under a federal statute.

At hearing, eight lay witnesses and four expert witnesses testified. In the recommended order’s discussion of the evidence presented, which was the basis for the Board’s final order, the administrative law judge (ALJ) discussed the testimony of only one witness-Borges-after concluding that a statement by Borges constituted a concession that established that his conviction was related to his ability to practice dentistry. No other testimony was discussed in the order, or even acknowledged.

On appeal, the appellate court concluded that the ALJ’s recommended order adopted by the Board did not comply with one of the requirements of section 120.57, Florida Statutes-that an ALJ’s order must contain “express findings of fact.” The court was quick to point out that, while the findings of fact did not have to address the testimony of every witness (i.e., all twelve here), the order must at least address the factual controversies at issue to the extent they are relevant to the disposition, or address why the testimony is irrelevant. Having failed to do so in this case, the appellate court reversed and remanded.

The case summary above was originally published in the Administrative Law Section Newsletter, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Dec. 2014), a publication of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Editor’s Comments on Case Summary.

This case demonstrates an important concept in administrative law. This is, an administrative law judge is required to discuss the evidence presented at the hearing and make specific findings of fact based on that evidence. Failing to do this in the recommended order (RO) can lead to reversal by an appellate court.


Comments?

Do you think the appellate court should have reversed? Do you think it was important to discuss all testimonies in this case? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.


Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Licensure Matters.

If you have been arrested, it is strongly recommended that you retain an experienced healthcare attorney who can advise you as to the effects a potential outcome could have on your license.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm routinely represent physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners in licensure matters. We frequently consult with criminal defense attorneys regarding defense strategies tailored to minimizing criminal sanctions while preserving the practitioner’s license.

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.

KeyWords: Criminal law, license, defense attorney, health law, health care attorney, health care lawyer, health investigation, medical license, conviction, desntist, dentist criminal charges, Department of Health, DOH, professional license, federal statutes, license disciplined, license revoked, health attorney, finding of guilt, adjudication withheld, diversion program, DOH conviction, adjudication, discipline, criminal trial, defense lawyer, ALJ, administrative law judge, administrative law, appellate court, administrative orders, Florida Board of Dentistry, Board of Dentistry, dentistry, statutes, testimony

“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 © 1996-2015 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Nurses: Did You Know You Have Fifth Amendment Rights in a Florida Department of Health Investigation Involving Your License?

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

If you are contacted by a Florida Department of Health investigator, did you know that you cannot be required to make a statement or give any information that can be used against you? If you are being investigated you have a right to refuse to speak with an investigator pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the equivalent rights given by the Florida Constitution, Article 1, Section 9. Unfortunately, because the Miranda decision does not apply to administrative proceedings, including licensure investigations, the DOH investigator does not have to inform you of this.

In some states other than Florida, the state’s law is such that a nurse or other licensed health care professional is required to “cooperate” with the investigation, even though he or she may be punished or lose their license as a result. However, this is not the case in Florida.

Florida Nursing Licensing Investigations Are Considered to Be “Penal” or “Quasi-criminal” in Nature.

Florida nursing licensing (or any health care licensing) investigations are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature. In Florida, a professional’s license is considered to be a property right. So you also have the constitutional right not to be deprived of it without due process of law. Due Process of law is guaranteed not only by the Florida and U.S. constitutional provisions cited above, but also by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Due process of law includes the right to be represented by an attorney in any proceedings that might be initiated that may result in your losing your license.

In Florida, a long history of legal cases has resulted in the common law rule that administrative proceedings that may result in loss of a license must afford all of the protections that a criminal defendant would have in a criminal case.

Florida Case Law.

In a 2004 case involving the Florida Department of Health, the Florida First District Court of Appeal stated:

Initially, it should not be forgotten that because professional disciplinary statutes are penal in nature, they must be strictly construed with any ambiguity interpreted in favor of the licensee. See Ocampo v. Dep’t of Health, 806 So. 2d 633, 634 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002); Elmariah v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Board of Med., 574 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990).

Cone v. Dep’t of Health, 886 So. 2d 1007, 1011 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004).

The Florida Supreme Court confirmed that a licensee could assert a Fifth Amendment right in administrative proceedings in the 1973 case of State ex rel. Vining v. Florida Real Estate Commission, 281 So.2d 487 (1973).

In Vining a real estate broker was charged by the Florida Real Estate Commission of violating the Real Estate License Law. Id. at 488. The broker filed a sworn answer, as he was required to do under Florida Statute Section 475.30(1). Id. The broker later argued that the Florida statute violated his right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution. Id.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed, holding that “the right to remain silent applies not only to the traditional criminal case, but also to proceedings ‘penal’ in nature in that they tend to degrade the individual’s professional standing, professional reputation or livelihood.” Id. at 491 (citing Spevack v. Klein, 385 U.S. 511, 87 S.Ct. 625, 17 L.Ed.2d 574 (1967); Stockham v. Stockham, 168 So. 2d 320 (Fla. 1964)). More recently, courts have reaffirmed that Vining remains good law in Florida. See Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993); Scott v. Department of Professional Regulation, 603 So. 2d 519, 520 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992).

In Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993), for example, the Court of Appeal reiterated the ability of a defendant to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege in an administrative proceeding. Best Pool involved a pool owner filing actions for negligence and breach of contract against a pool maintenance contractor and its president. The circuit court required the president to answer questions at his deposition about his certifying to the county, in an application for license, that the contractor had liability insurance. The Court of Appeal ruled that the president was allowed to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege with regard to questions on this issue. The court stated in Best Pool: “requiring Kassover, the president, to answer these questions does violate his right against self incrimination, which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing. Id. at 66.

There are many other cases which have held the same.

Be Extremely Leery When Dealing with a DOH Investigator or Any Investigator.

If you receive notice that a DOH disciplinary investigation has been opened against you, you may not even realize it or understand how serious the consequences may be. The notice comes in the form of a simple letter or, more often nowadays, a phone call, followed by a letter. The letter will be on Florida Department of Health letterhead and will, in most cases, be signed by a person whose job title is “Medical Malpractice Investigator,” “Quality Assurance Investigator” or some other title that might throw you off.

If you think you are giving information to be used in connection with a true quality assurance matter, such as would be confidential and privileged in a hospital or health institution, think again. This is an investigation that could result in your having to pay thousands of dollars in fines, thousands of dollars in investigative costs and suspension or loss of your license. Worse yet are the other consequences that having discipline on your professional license will bring, including difficulty in obtaining employment, reports being made to national data banks, etc. Please see some of the other articles we have on our blog and on our website about all of the unforeseen consequences of discipline on your license.

Being Told the Investigation Is Not Aimed at You? Watch Out!

Even if the investigator attempts to ensure you that the investigation is not aimed at you, watch out! It may not be aimed at you today, but it may be aimed at you tomorrow. Additionally, even if the particular investigation that you are being questioned about is not directed against you, there may be another investigation that has been opened against you. Your statement can and will be sued against you in that other investigation.

I was told by a DOH investigator one time that my clients (who were a director of nursing (DON), assistant director of nursing (ADON), an administrator and a medical director) were not being investigated, but that another health professional was. My clients cooperated and gave statements for use in the investigation of the other person. A short time later, additional investigations were opened against all of them, too. Fortunately we eventually had all of the charges against all of them dismissed. But I have not trusted investigators since then.

Don’t Wait Until it is Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Representing Nurses Now.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent nurses, ARNPs, CRNAs, home health agencies, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare providers in licensing investigations, regulatory matters, in board actions and in administrative hearings, including before the Board of Nursing. Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website 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.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine. This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.