Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Plaintiff Yesenia Pacheco sought contraception from Neighborcare Health, a federally funded community health center, “to prevent the birth of an unwanted child.” The method Pacheco and her care providers selected was Depo-Provera, “a highly effective” injectable contraceptive medication that “must be administered on a timely basis every eleven to thirteen weeks.” Pacheco received regular Depo-Provera injections from December 2009 until July 2011. On September 30, 2011 for her next scheduled appointment, a medical assistant “mistakenly injected [Pacheco] with a flu vaccine instead.” The medical assistant “failed to confirm why Ms. Pacheco was there, to document consent to the flu vaccine or a change in the orders, or to advise Ms. Pacheco of the side effects of a flu shot and/or the consequences of skipping a Depo-Provera injection.” Neighborcare did not inform Pacheco of its mistake until December 2011, when she sought an appointment for her next Depo-Provera injection. At that time, Neighborcare asked Pacheco to come to the clinic for a pregnancy test, which was positive. Plaintiff S.L.P. was born to Pacheco and plaintiff Luis Lemus, diagnosed with perisylvian polymicrogyria (PMG), a congenital defect resulting in permanent disabilities. In March 2017, Pacheco, Lemus, and S.L.P. filed an amended complaint against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) at the federal district court for the Western District of Washington, seeking damages relating to Pacheco’s pregnancy and S.L.P.’s PMG. The federal district court certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court, asking whether a patient who received negligent reproductive health care could recover all damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence, regardless of the patient’s reason for seeking care. To this, the Supreme Court answered yes: if any Washington health care provider breaches their duty “to follow the accepted standard of care,” then damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence may be recovered upon the necessary factual findings. Where negligent contraceptive care results in the birth of a child, and that child has a congenital defect, the provider may be liable for damages relating to the child’s condition. Such liability does not require proof that the child was at a known, heightened risk for developing congenital defects or that the patient sought contraception for the specific purpose of preventing the birth of a child with congenital defects. View "Pacheco v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Texas Medical Board is not required by federal law or permitted by Texas law to merely revise an initial report of a temporary sanction, rather than void it, when the Board later finds that the allegations have not been proved.Federal and State law require the Board to report a disciplinary action against a physician to the National Practitioner Data Bank to restrict the ability of incompetent physicians to move from state to state. The Board issued a temporary sanction against Dr. Robert Wayne Van Boven while it investigated misconduct allegations. The Board then issued a final order concluding that Van Boven was not subject to sanctions. Van Bovcen brought this ultra vires action against Board officials directing them to file a Void Report with the Data Bank, which would remove the initial report against him and a subsequent revision-to-action report from disclosure. The trial court denied Defendants' plea to the jurisdiction asserting sovereign immunity. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Board officials' actions in this case were ultra vires and that the officials were not immune from Van Boven's claims. View "Van Boven v. Freshour" on Justia Law

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Dr. Jacob Schmitz appealed a district court judgment affirming the final order of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners (“Board”) imposing discipline against him. He also appealed an order entered after a limited remand denying his motion for post-judgment relief under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Dr. Schmitz was a chiropractor licensed to practice in North Dakota. He owned and practiced at Freedom Chiropractic Health Center in Fargo, North Dakota. In March 2019 the Board issued an administrative complaint against Dr. Schmitz, alleging he failed to maintain the chiropractic standard of care for patient and clinical billing records in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 17-03-01-01(3), that Dr. Schmitz’s membership plans were in violation of N.D. Admin Code 17-03-01-05, and that Dr. Schmitz used Noridian Medicare Private Contract and Advanced Beneficiary Notice (ABN) forms to have patients opt out of Medicare in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 17-03-01-01(4). The Board requested the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) to appoint an ALJ to conduct an evidentiary hearing and issue recommended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. Both Dr. Schmitz and the Board moved for summary judgment. The ALJ held a telephonic hearing on the competing motions, issued a recommended order granting the Board’s summary judgment motion on each of the claims, and cancelled the previously scheduled evidentiary hearing. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Board’s final order, adopting an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) recommended order for summary judgment, erred in granting summary judgment on the Board’s claims against Dr. Schmitz. The judgment and the Board’s final order were reversed, and the matter remanded to the Board to conduct an evidentiary hearing and to supplement the administrative record. View "Schmitz v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy and substantive health care fraud for fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars for visits to nursing home patients that he never made. He challenged the convictions, sentence, restitution amount, and forfeiture amount on appeal.The co-conspirator pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government. Part of his plea agreement addressed his compensation during the conspiracy. Defendant contends that the district court erred in quashing his subpoena of the co-conspirator’s attorney. The court ruled that any erroneous exclusion of the attorney’s testimony was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because his testimony would not have impeached the co-conspirator. He further argues that the district court erred in limiting how many character witnesses he could present. The court found that the district court did not err because defendant overstates the importance of character witness testimony in this case. He was not on trial for being uncaring or uncompassionate but for lying and billing Medicare for services he did not provide.Additionally, defendant contends that the district court improperly limited part of his counsel’s closing argument when he was discussing whether defendant had made a profit. The court found that the government does not have to prove a defendant profited to establish the elements of fraud. The court also found that the district court did not err in calculating the loss amount used to determine defendant's sentence or the amount of restitution ordered. View "USA v. Douglas Moss" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from four Child in Need of Aid (CINA) cases. In each, the superior court appointed a guardian ad litem for the child through the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA), and in each case Brenda Finley, working under contract with OPA, appeared as the GAL. Pursuant to CINA Rule 11(e), Finley disclosed to the parties that she was a foster parent in another CINA case. She stated that she did not believe that her role as a foster parent “will affect her ability to be [impartial] in this specific case, or in other cases.” A parent in each case moved for an evidentiary hearing “regarding whether Ms. Finley should be disqualified as a guardian ad litem.” Arguing that Finley’s role as a foster parent might create a conflict of interest due to her relationship with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) as both a foster parent and a GAL, the parents sought additional details to determine whether a conflict existed, suggesting a hearing would allow them to elicit information regarding Finley’s past, present, and possible future tenure as a foster parent, the status of the cases in which she served as a foster parent, her financial arrangements with OCS, and her relationship with OCS workers. Both OCS and OPA filed qualified oppositions to the parents’ request for a hearing, arguing: that categorical disqualification of foster parents from serving as GALs was overbroad; the court should provide clarity on what framework should govern the potential conflict; and that a low bar for disqualification would fail to recognize “the difficulty of keeping positions in child welfare staffed by qualified individuals, ideally with ties to the community . . . .” The Alaska Supreme Court held that the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct applied to determine whether the GAL has a disqualifying conflict of interest and that the superior court must permit limited discovery to ascertain the underlying facts for determining whether a disqualifying conflict exists. View "C.L. v. Office of Public Advocacy" on Justia Law

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Nina’s was a residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE) licensed by the Community Care Licensing Division (CCL) of the State Department of Social Services. Plaintiff, an RN-certified legal nurse consultant, was hired to assist with the closure of Nina’s and agreed to assess each of the residents and recommend a new facility, as required by RCFE closing procedures, Health and Safety Code 1569.682(a)(1)(A).Caregivers from the new RCFE, Frye’s, came to transfer J.N. They immediately noticed that J.N. was in significant pain; multiple bandages “stuck to [J.N.’s] skin and her wounds,” which “all smelled really bad.” J.N.’s toes were black. Frye’s caregivers called 911. J.N. died weeks later. A CCL investigator contacted plaintiff, who confirmed that he had performed J.N.’s assessment. Plaintiff later denied performing J.N.’s physical assessment, stating that Mia “was the one in charge.” He denied guiding or instructing Mia during the assessment, stating he only acted as a “scribe.” The ALJ found clear and convincing evidence that plaintiff committed gross negligence in connection with J.N.'s appraisal, unprofessional conduct in carrying out nursing functions in connection with the appraisal, and unprofessional conduct by not being truthful with the Board investigator regarding J.N.'s care provided.The court of appeal upheld the revocation of plaintiff’s nursing license. Substantial evidence supports the finding that plaintiff engaged in a “usual nursing function” when he performed J.N.’s resident appraisal. Plaintiff’s dishonesty during the investigation constitutes unprofessional conduct. View "Clawson v. Board of Registered Nursing" on Justia Law

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Zena Collins Stephens appealed both the court of appeals’ denial of a pretrial writ of habeas corpus and its reversal of the district court’s decision to quash Count I of the indictment. Stephens was elected to the position of sheriff of Jefferson County, Texas in 2016. While investigating someone else, the FBI uncovered information regarding potential campaign-finance violations concerning Stephens. The FBI then turned this information over to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers’ investigation concluded Stephens received individual cash campaign contributions in excess of $100. A grand jury indicted Stephens on three counts: Count I: tampering with a government record in violation of Texas Penal Code section 37.10 “by reporting a $5,000.00 individual cash contribution in the political contributions of $50.00 or less section of said Report;” iIn Counts II and III, unlawfully making or accepting a contribution in violation of Texas Election Code section 253.033(a) by accepting cash contributions in excess of $100 from two different individuals. On appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Stephens asked: could the Texas Legislature delegate to the Attorney General, a member of the executive department, the prosecution of election-law violations in district and inferior courts? To this, the Court answered "no:" because Texas Election Code section 273.021 delegated to the Attorney General a power more properly assigned to the judicial department, the statute was unconstitutional. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and remanded the case to the trial court to dismiss the indictment. View "Texas v. Stephens" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court reversing the Iowa Board of Medicine declaratory order interpreting Iowa Code 272C.6(4)(a) as allowing the Board to publish statements of charges and press releases containing investigative information, holding that the district court did not err.The Board filed a statement of charges against Dr. Domenico Calcaterra accusing him of a "pattern of disruptive behavior and/or unethical or unprofessional conduct" and published the statement of charges against Dr. Calcaterra, along with a press release, on the Board's website. Several years after the parties reached a settlement, information about the allegations against Dr. Calcaterra remained available on the Board's website. Dr. Calcaterra filed a petition for declaratory order with the Board challenging that Board's ongoing dissemination of investigative information. The Board denied the challenge. The district court set aside the Board's order, holding that section 272.6(4)(a) prohibited the disclosure of the investigative information. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Board incorrectly interpreted section 272C.6(4)(a) and that investigative information cannot be released to the public in a statement of charges or a press release when there has been no underlying final decision in the disciplinary proceeding. View "Calcaterra v. Iowa Board of Medicine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter challenging the superior court's judgment affirming a decision of the Board of Dental Practice sanctioning Appellant, a licensed dentist in Maine, for unprofessional conduct for her failure to timely provide patient medical records, holding that the Board's findings of fact were insufficient to permit judicial review.An attorney who represented one of Appellant's patients sent a request to Appellant for the patient's medical records. When the request was refused, the attorney filed a complaint with the Board. The Board found that Appellant had engaged in unprofessional conduct, thereby violating Me. Rev. Stat. 18325(1)(E), and sanctioned Appellant. The superior court upheld the Board's decision. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court's judgment and remanded the matter, holding that the Board did not make sufficient factual findings, precluding review. View "Narowetz v. Board of Dental Practice" on Justia Law

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Appellee Northside Leadership Conference (NLC), was a non-profit community development corporation that owned contiguous real property in Pittsburgh situated in a local neighborhood commercial zoning district designated for mixed use. In 2018, NLC applied for variances and special exceptions necessary to, inter alia, maintain the retail space, remodel and reopen the restaurant and permit the construction of six additional dwelling units. In 2018, a three-member panel of the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) conducted a hearing on NLC’s applications. Appellants Stephen Pascal and Chris Gates attended the hearing and objected to NLC’s applications. The ZBA ultimately granted the variance and special exception applications. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in approving a decision granting zoning relief despite: (1) the timing of the decision and (2) the alleged conflict of interest of one member of a three-member panel of the ZBA. We affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for a new hearing before a different three-member panel of the ZBA.The Supreme Court found that the ZBA member ruling on the propriety of zoning applications brought by an organization on whose board she sat at all relevant times "so clearly and obviously endangered the appearance of neutrality that her recusal was required under well-settled due process principles that disallow a person to be the judge of his or her own case or to try a matter in which he or she has an interest in the outcome." The Supreme Court held the Commonwealth Court erred in rejecting appellants’ arguments on this issue and upholding the resulting tainted ZBA decision. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s order in part and reversed in part. The matter was remanded for a new hearing on the appellee NLC’s zoning applications before a newly constituted panel of the ZBA. View "Pascal, et al. v. City of Pgh ZBA, et al." on Justia Law