Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Carrie Thompson-Widmer appealed the dismissal of her claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship against Kimberly Larson, Wells County, Eddy County, and Foster County. In January 2017, Larson filed a formal complaint with the State Board of Social Work Examiners against Thompson-Widmer on the basis of Thompson-Widmer’s actions in two child protection services cases. Larson alleged Thompson-Widmer misrepresented information about a child’s home environment in one case, and altered a report about methamphetamine in an infant’s meconium in the other case. Larson also met with a state’s attorney about Thompson-Widmer’s actions. The attorney referred the matter to a special prosecutor for consideration of potential criminal charges. Because the complaint to the State Board was filed while Thompson-Widmer was a Tri-County employee, Larson placed the complaint and the supporting documents in Thompson-Widmer’s employee personnel file. After the criminal investigation into Thompson-Widmer’s action was suspended, she became employed with Catholic Charities in April 2017. Tri-County worked with Catholic Charities on adoption placement cases. Larson’s staff informed her they did not feel comfortable working with Thompson- Widmer. Larson notified Catholic Charities that Tri-County would rather work with someone other than Thompson-Widmer. Catholic Charities submitted an open records request for Thompson-Widmer’s personnel file, and Larson fulfilled the request on Tri-County’s behalf. In May 2017, after receiving the personnel file, which included Larson’s complaint against Thompson-Widmer, Thompson-Widmer was terminated because she was not forthcoming about her issues while employed by Tri-County. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding Larson’s communications were privileged and therefore not subject to liability for defamation. View "Thompson-Widmer v. Larson, et al." on Justia Law

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Rebecca Burr appealed a district court judgment dismissing her complaint against the North Dakota Board of Dental Examiners. In mid-2019, Burr filed a complaint with the North Dakota Board of Dental Examiners alleging a dentist previously licensed by the Board committed aggravated assault and permanently maimed her in 1989. Her original complaint to the Board stated she had reached out to the Board in 1996 by sending a letter outlining some of the same complaints that were in the 2019 formal complaint. The Board responded to Burr’s complaint with a formal letter stating that it had determined “there is not a reasonable basis to believe that a violation of NDCC 43-28-18 or the rules promulgated by the Board occurred” and that the matter was dismissed without any action having been taken. In January 2020, Burr served the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) a notice of claim in the amount of $250,000, alleging that the Board failed to satisfy its legal obligation to investigate her claim “and that the failure to do so caused Ms. Burr further harm, pain and suffering.” In February 2020, OMB notified Burr by letter that her claim had been denied. Burr did not pursue an administrative appeal of that decision. She then commenced this action by serving the Board and OMB with a summons and complaint in May 2020. The district court granted the Board’s motion to dismiss, finding it lacked jurisdiction, and concluding that the Board was entitled to both quasi-judicial immunity and discretionary immunity. On appeal, Burr argued the district court erred in concluding that the Board was entitled to discretionary immunity and in dismissing her complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Burr v. N.D. State Board of Dental Examiners" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the portion of the court of appeals' judgment declaring that the rules issued by the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners authorizing chiropractors to perform an eye-movement test for neurological problems known as VONT, holding that the challenged rules do not exceed the statutory scope of the chiropractic practice.The Texas Chiropractic Act defines the practice of chiropractic to include evaluating the musculoskeletal system and improving the subluxation complex. In 2006, the Board adopted a rule defining both terms as involving nerves in addition to muscles and bones. In 2010, the Board adopted a rule authorizing chiropractors to perform vestibular-ocular-nystagmus testing, or VONT. The Texas Medical Association (TMA) challenged the rules in court. The court of appeals concluded that the rules exceeded the scope of practice prescribed in the Act. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the challenged provisions are valid. View "Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners v. Texas Medical Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The People of the State of California, by and through the Santa Clara County Counsel, the Orange County District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Counsel, and the Oakland City Attorney, filed suit against various pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of prescription opioid medications. The People alleged the defendants made false and misleading statements as part of a deceptive marketing scheme designed to minimize the risks of opioid medications and inflate their benefits. The People alleged this scheme caused a public health crisis in California by dramatically increasing opioid prescriptions, opioid use, opioid abuse, and opioid-related deaths. In their suit, the People allege causes of action for violations of the False Advertising Law, and the public nuisance statutes. After several years of litigation, the defendants served business record subpoenas on four nonparty state agencies: the California State Board of Registered Nursing (Nursing Board), the California State Board of Pharmacy (Pharmacy Board), the Medical Board of California (Medical Board), and the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The Pharmacy Board, the Medical Board, and the DOJ served objections to the subpoenas. The Nursing Board filed a motion for a protective order seeking relief from the production obligations of its subpoena. After further litigation, which is recounted below, the trial court ordered the state agencies to produce documents in response to the subpoenas. In consolidated proceedings, the state agencies challenged the trial court's orders compelling production of documents. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the motions to compel against the Pharmacy Board and Medical Board were untimely, and the defendants were required to serve consumer notices on at least the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals whose identities would be disclosed in the administrative records, investigatory files, and coroner’s reports. Furthermore, the Court concluded the requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files, were overbroad and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. "The requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files also ran afoul of the constitutional right to privacy and the statutory official information and deliberative process privileges." The trial court was directed to vacate its orders compelling production of documents, and to enter new orders denying the motions to compel and, for the Nursing Board, granting its motion for a protective order. View "Board of Registered Nursing v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) affirming its previous order emergently suspending Dr. Blake Donaldson's license and finding cause for discipline and the Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts' subsequent decision to discipline Donaldson's license, holding that there was no error.From 1995 to 2017, the Board licensed Donaldson as an osteopathic physician and surgeon. In 2017, the Board filed a complaint alleging that Donaldson had engaged in several instances of sexual misconduct with a patient. The AHC, acting pursuant to the emergency procedures set forth in Mo. Rev. Stat. 334.102, found probable cause to believe Donaldson engaged in sexual contact with a patient and emergently suspended Donald's license. The AHC then affirmed its previous order. Thereafter, the Board revoked Donaldson's license and prohibited him from applying for reinstatement for seven years. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the AHC's decision was authorized by law and was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Donaldson v. Missouri State Board of Registration for Healing Arts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Appellant's administrative appeal from a decision of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) in favor of the DOH director, Board of Examiners in Dentistry of the DOH, and the DOH, holding that the trial justice did not err.The Board imposed sanctions upon Appellant John F. Begg, D.D.S. for violations of R.I. Gen. Laws 5-31.1-10(19), (23), and (24) and sections 25.1.1, 27.1(s), 27.1(x), and 27.1(w) of DOH's rules and regulations pertaining to dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants. The trial justice affirmed the Board's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DOH had subject matter jurisdiction over the administrative proceedings; (2) the Board did not utilize the subpoena power provided to it by R.I. Gen. Laws 5-31.1-4 and 5-31.1-14 in its request for patient healthcare information, nor was it required to do so; and (3) legally competent evidence existed to support the sanctions imposed by the Board. View "Begg v. Alexander-Scott" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court considered the amended recommendation of the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline (“Commission”) that now-former District Court Judge Ryan Kamada be sanctioned by public censure for violations of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct that occurred while he was serving as a judicial officer. The recommendation concludes that then-Judge Kamada’s conduct violated the following provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 1, Rule 1.1(A) (requiring a judge to comply with the law), Rule 1.2 (requiring a judge to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary), Rule 1.3 (prohibiting abuse of the prestige of judicial office); Canon 2, Rule 2.9 (prohibiting ex parte communications), Rule 2.10 (prohibiting judicial statements on pending cases); and Canon 3, (prohibiting the intentional disclosure of nonpublic judicial information). Having considered the full record, the Supreme Court concluded the Commission properly found that then-Judge Kamada violated numerous provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Had Kamada not already resigned his position, removal from office would have been an appropriate sanction for his misconduct. Because he has resigned, the Court concurred with the Commission’s recommendation that Kamada should have been publicly censured. View "In the Matter of Ryan L. Kamada" on Justia Law

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The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana filed a disciplinary proceeding against respondent, Justice of the Peace Cody King on one count that alleged respondent violated Canons 1, 2, 2A, 3A(1), 3A(7), and 3B(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct (1996) and La. Const. Art. V, section 25(C). In 2018, the Attorney General's Office filed the first of three complaints against Respondent with the Office of Special Counsel of the Commission, asserting that Respondent failed to respond to constituents in his district, and likewise failed to respond to letters or calls from the Attorney General's office. In 2019, Hannah Zaunbrecher filed a complaint, asserting: (1) Respondent was difficult to reach; (2) he overcharged Ms. Zaunbrecher for an eviction she filed; (3) he did not set a court date in the eviction matter despite repeated requests from Ms. Zaunbrecher after the eviction was filed; and (4) Respondent failed to refund the unearned filing fee. The OSC sent letters to Respondent notifying him of each complaint. Respondent did not reply despite later acknowledging that he received them. After a hearing on these charges, the Commission filed a recommendation with the Louisiana Supreme Court concluding that the above violations had been proven. To this, the Supreme Court agreed with the Commission’s recommendation, and ordered the removal of Respondent from office, that he reimburse the Commission the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of the case, and further, that he pay restitution for an unearned filing fee he failed to return to Parish Leasing Company, LLC. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Cody King, Ward 6, Morehouse Parish" on Justia Law

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Fox Lake patrol officer Zander was charged with misconduct arising from multiple job-related incidents. The chief recommended termination. Zander's union, FOP, assigned Attorney Carlson, an FOP employee. Zander had no input into the choice of an attorney, had no retainer agreement with Carlson, and was not charged for Carlson’s services. Under the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1-1-1), police officers who face removal or discharge are entitled to a hearing before the local board of fire and police commissioners unless a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provides for arbitration. The CBA between Fox Lake and FOP gave officers the option of pursuing either avenue. On Carlson’s advice, Zander chose arbitration. The arbitrator upheld the termination. Zander sued, alleging legal malpractice and that FOP has no right to employ attorneys to furnish legal services under its direction to FOP members, and cannot control what attorneys assigned to help FOP members may do and “should be vicariously liable.”The circuit court dismissed, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s "Atkinson" holding, which immunizes union members and officers against personal liability for actions taken while acting as a union representative in the context of the collective bargaining process. The court noted the parallels between federal labor law and the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. But for the collective bargaining agreement. FOP would have owed Zander no duty. Zander’s claim against the union fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. View "Zander v. Carlson" on Justia Law

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The Alabama Department of Revenue ("DOR") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to order Judge Eddie Hardaway to recuse himself from an appeal challenging a decision of the Alabama Tax Tribunal in favor of Greenetrack, Inc. In 2009, the DOR determined Greentrack owed $75 million in sales taxes and consumer-use taxes for its electronic-bingo activities for the period from January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2008. In 2013, the Alabama Department of Revenue moved for Judge Hardaway to recuse himself, arguing that recusal was required because Judge Hardaway had recused himself two months earlier from another case on a related matter involving these same parties. In the present dispute, the DOR asked Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. This time the circuit court denied the request without providing any specific rationale or reasoning in its order, finding the "cases and authorities relied upon by the Alabama Department of Revenue do not support recusal under the facts and circumstances of this case." Finding the DOR demonstrated a clear, legal right to the recusal of Judge Hardaway in this matter, the Alabama Supreme Court granted its petition and directed Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Revenue." on Justia Law