Act 6 of 2018 — All Licensees Must Report Criminal or Disciplinary Charges with in 30 Days

Act 6 of 2018 is a new law in 2018. It represents a fundamental shift in Pennsylvania licensees’ duty to report criminal charges and disciplinary actions filed against them in any jurisdiction in the entire country. The General Assembly passed the new law in anticipation of medical marijuana. The enforcement environment is getting much stricter in Pennsylvania. Every Pennsylvania professional licensee must report the misdemeanor and felony criminal charges to their respective board within 30 days receipt of criminal charges. It is a disciplinary offense for any licensee to not report within 30 days of receipt of criminal charges.

Act 6 of 2018 specifically authorizes the The Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (“BPOA”) to subscribe to JNET. My prior blogs discuss JNET, the criminal reporting database network to which the Nursing Board began subscribing.   JNET now levels the reporting responsibility and Boards learning of its licensees’ criminal conduct.  There was a significant difference between nurses and doctors, pharmacist, realtors, cosmetologists, and funeral directors (and all others) in their criminal charge reporting responsibilities. All licensees are now treated equal. Licensees can not wait to report — thinking at a preliminary hearing charges will be reduced to a summary offense, for which there is a guilty plea. The charging is the reportable event, not the end result.

This all began in 2014.  In late 2014 the General Assembly modified Pennsylvania professional licensing regulations to require nurses to report criminal charges, not conviction, within 30 day days of charges being filing. The BPOA utilized the last several years to create a new enforcement infrastructure and mechanisms to insure disciplinary action is initiated against all nurses who either reported or they learned of criminal conduct or did not report at all.  The reporting responsibility is in addition to reporting criminal charges upon licensee renewal.

Through JNET the Nursing Board became familiar with the criminal reporting subscription service and its information power. Obviously the Board created a flow chart starting at receipt of criminal information through to disciplinary charge initiation for failure to report. The Nursing Board worked out the differences between JNET and nurse reporting of charges. Steps between failure to report, Board investigation, document review, and charges have also been ironed out.

Apparently BPOA had a significantly positive experience with JNET’s notification process, allowing it to better enforce nurses’ reporting responsibility. Expanding 30-day reporting of criminal activity to all other 25 licensing boards will inundate the BPOA with information regarding licensees’ criminal behavior.  This will produce some delays in failure to report and initiation of criminal charges.

The Act also gives the BPOA prosecutor not just the authority but the command to initiate within 30 days an emergent suspension if a licensee’s criminal acts reveal a clear and present danger to the public. The licensee is afforded a preliminary hearing to contest the automatic license suspension. This “automatic suspension process” is not new.

All licensees were spared the obligation to report summary Drug Act violations. By this I mean summary charges for disorderly conduct written by cops giving a break to licensees caught with illegal marijuana. This reporting requirement was in the original versions of the bill but stricken from the final version. The Act includes authority for every Board to institute a schedule of fines for escalating number of failure to report charges.

Act 6 includes a very limited right of expungement. This is only for disciplinary action for failure to comply with continued education requirements. The law explicitly precludes any expungement of any disciplinary order by any board for any other offense. Aside from capping Board fines to $10,000, BPOA can enter a judgment against the licensee if the fine is not paid in 5 years.

Call me to discuss your case.

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Criminal Conviction – Professional License Suspensions and Mitigation Evidence

The Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. C.S. § 9124(c)(1) (CHIRA), requires Pennsylvania’s licensing boards consider criminal convictions disclosed on license applications or which take place after licensure as a reason to discipline active licensees. Different licensing boards apply CHIRA’s rules differently.

On February 28, 2018 Commonwealth Court decided Bentley vs. BPOA, — A.3d —- (2018).  This cases expounds on how a licensing board abuses its discretion when it disciplines a licensee for criminal conduct not related to their license. In 2013 and 2014, Cosmetologist Bentley was convicted in two separate cases of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, forgery, aggravated assault, escape, and attempting to allude the police. Wow.

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Bentley reported the convictions to her Board, which issued a Rule to Show Cause seeking to discipline her license under CHIRA.  At the hearing, the Cosmetology Board prosecutor only presented the certified criminal conviction. This is the typical prosecutor practice.  No witness testified as to the underlying criminal conduct.

It is important to have competent counsel at this hearing.  Counsel should object to inadmissible portions of the certified conviction documents. Objections to hearsay statements in affidavits of probable cause eliminate statements of people not present at the hearing.  The licensee can not cross-examine that witness.   I always have these documents paired down and limited.  My client/licensee’s explanation of the criminal case is the only version of events. Consistent Nguyen v. BPOA, licensees are allowed to explain their role in any multi-defendant criminal case. They may explain a co-defendant’s greater role than their own.

During her hearing, through counsel, Bentley presented significant and appropriate mitigation evidence. Mitigation evidence included the delay of the prosecution versus the time of the criminal act; new and abundant family support; full and complete responsibility for the criminal act; the unique set of factors leading up to the criminal charges and her association with her then boyfriend and now co-defendant.  Most importantly, she described her rehabilitation while in state prison. This rehabilitation included anger management, employment/cosmetology training, and new religious faith. She presented reasonable and appropriate community reputation evidence. This evidence corroborated her claim of being rehabilitated, remorseful for her actions, and turning over a new leaf.

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The hearing officer suspended Bentley’s license for the balance of her parole (probably not long). The Cosmetology Board, as all boards do, issued a notice of intent to review the hearing officer’s decision.  The Cosmetology Board rejected as modest Bentley’s mitigation evidence. The board suspended Bentley’s cosmetology license for three years based upon the criminal convictions. The Board rejected Bentley’s need for licensure to remain employed, her rehabilitation, and need to support herself.

Bentley appealed to the Commonwealth Court.  She claimed the Board abused its discretion when it rejected her mitigation evidence and suspended her license based solely on the criminal convictions.  Bentley alleged that the Board summarily ignored all of her uncontested mitigation evidence, which was not contradicted by any evidence the Commonwealth introduced in the certified criminal conviction. Bentley argued the suspension was manifestly unreasonable because the convictions bore no relation to the practice of cosmetology. Arguing the Board’s conduct capriciously disregarded her mitigation evidence absent explanation was an abuse of discretion.

On review the Commonwealth court agreed. Commonwealth Court defines capricious disregard as “when there is a willful and deliberate disregard of competent testimony and relevant evidence which one of ordinarily intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result. When strong evidence contradicts contrary evidence, the adjudicator must explain the basis for its determination.” Absent a proper explanation why the adjudicator is rejecting overwhelming critical evidence, the board abuses its discretion.

As with many of my cases the time delay between criminal event, conviction, and disciplinary action may be five or six years. I argue Board delay which allows the licensee to practice of their profession for three or four years renders mute any board allegation that there is an emergent basis for extensive discipline. Suspension or revocation is not warranted if the board took six years to do it.

Also, the Cosmetology Board licensing scheme does not authorize discipline for criminal convictions not related to the profession.   Imposing discipline based upon the convictions was an error of law.  Such also revealed ignorance of Bentley’s mitigation evidence.  The court found Bentley’s mitigation evidence unique and must be considered.
The Commonwealth Court held that the Board’s summary rejection and failure to consider it constitutes a capricious disregard of the evidence. Such is an abuse of discretion for which the Commonwealth Court rejects the board decision and sends the case back to the Cosmetology Board.

This case is an example of licensing boards tightening their belts and implementing a much stiffer enforcement environment. This appellate  decision, and several other recent cases, reveal licensing boards routinely abusing their discretion and ignoring the law that guides their decisions.  Non-law trained licensing board members shoot from the hip regarding the discipline that they want to impose upon their license fees. Many times, there is no legal basis for the discipline.

When licensees take an appeal, they have an appellate, independent, unbiased court review the nature and extent of imposed discipline.  The appellate court rejects this board’s arbitrary and capricious decision. Unfortunately this costs a lot of money. However, in many of my cases I see unfettered discretion punishing hard-working licensees that is far beyond both what is necessary and reasonable and what the licensing statutes allow.
Call me to discuss your case.  A criminal record should not be a bar to getting or keeping a license.
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Jerry’s career took off.  So should yours.

Drug Act, Automatic Suspensions, and the Time Period for Reinstatement

In November, I wrote a blog about  McGrath v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, No. 5 WAP 2017, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 3109, at *12-13 (Nov. 22, 2017). Felony Convictions and License Reinstatement This case has now been interpreted in a second license revocation appeal. Joseph Thomas Acri, D.O., Petitioner v. Bureau of Professional…, — A.3d —- (2018). Acri, a D.O., medical license was suspended due to prescription fraud.   The State Board of Osteopathic Medicine (Board), automatically suspended his license to practice osteopathic medicine and surgery pursuant to section 14(b) of the Osteopathic Medical Practice Act (Act) based upon his felony convictions under The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (CSA), 35 P.S. §§ 780-101—780-144.   He appealed his 10 year ineligibility for license reissuance.

In McGrath, the key holding focuses on the 10 year license ineligibility after a Drug Act felony conviction.  The Court there ruled that the statute evidenced irreconcilable ambiguities regarding whether an individual must wait ten years before applying for reinstatement after having his or her license suspended for violating the CSA. In so holding, the Court noted that a general provision in the Law granted the licensing board with authority to reissue a suspended license, irrespective of a time frame; the section providing for a ten-year waiting period applied to “applicants;” the section dealing with a five-year waiting period concerned the “revocation” and not the “suspension” of a license; and the provisos relating to the “restoration” or “reissuance” of a license made it unclear through which provision the licensing board should consider an application for reinstatement.

After applying the general rules of statutory construction, the Court in McGrath determined that the statutory language remained ambiguous, and because the Law was penal in nature, the court construed it strictly and in favor of the individual. Therefore, the court reversed the licensing board’s order to the extent it imposed a license suspension for a mandatory period of not less than ten years and concluded that the licensing board should process any application for reissuance in accordance with the general, discretionary provision of the Law granting it the power to reissue a suspended license.

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McGrath’s nursing license was automatically suspended – not revoked – when she was convicted of violating the Drug Act (it seems a felony).  McGrath petitioned for reinstatement of her nursing sometime shorter than 10 years.  McGrath argued the Nursing Act’s provision for reinstatement allowed for the Board to grant such application within its discretion at any time, not earlier then 10 years stated under a separate provision of the Nursing Act.  The Court agreed, stating it is within the Board’s discretionary provision of the Law granting it the power to reissue a suspended license.

 

Acri argued the same logic and reasoning applied to the statutes and Board regulations applicable to license doctors under the Osteopathic Act, 63 P.S. § 271..2 and 14a.  Acri maintained the Board’s order automatically suspending his licenses for a period of not less than ten years was in error.  The Court agreed!   Importantly, at oral argument before the appellate court, the Board conceded that there were no statutory time constraints placed upon Petitioner and that he could apply for reinstatement or reissuance when he so desires.  This is the ruling of McGrath!

 

The Acri Court, however,  admonishes the Osteopathic Board and all other licensing Boards to implement this procedure.  “However, this concession does not alter the fact that the Board’s order strongly suggests otherwise, or is at least ambiguous. Although we have no doubt that, in the future, the Board will fulfill its promise to interpret and apply its order in the way that it said it would, this Court nevertheless has an obligation to address the legal issue presented to it.”

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Here the court is saying to the licensing boards, fix your Board disciplinary orders and remove the time period of disqualification for petitions for reinstatement.   The Court’s language is very instructive. “Therefore, pursuant to our decision in McGrath, we modify the Board’s order insofar as it imposed a mandatory five or ten year suspension on Petitioner’s license. In accordance with this memorandum opinion, any reissuance request from a suspension for violating the CSA shall be processed and reviewed under section 15(c)(6) of the Act.”

These two decisions continue in the process of allowing for license reinstatement or reissuance sooner, and not under and specific time period of preclusion.  The difficult legal issue now will be that an appeal of any board order denying license reinstatement for felony Drug Act conviction will be based upon an abuse of discretion standard and not an error of law standard.  The abuse of discretion standard is viewed in light of the general rule that all licensing boards are charged with the responsibility and authority to oversee the profession and to regulate and license professionals to protect the public health and safety. Barran v. State Board of Medicine, 670 A.2d 765, 767 (Pa .Cmwlth.1996), appeal denied 679 A.2d 230 (Pa.1996).

An abuse of discretion is generally defined as a misapplication of the law, a manifestly unreasonable exercise in judgment, or a final result that evidences partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will. Allegheny County v. Golf Resort, Inc., 974 A.2d 1242 (Pa.Cmwlth.2009); Pastorius v. State Real Estate Commission, 466 A.2d 780 (Pa.Cmwlth.1983). When reviewing the exercise of discretion by an administrative agency, the Court may not, in the absence of bad faith, fraud, capricious action or abuse of power, inquire into the wisdom of the agency’s action or into the details or manner of executing agency action. Slawek v. State Board of Medical Education and Licensure, 526 Pa. 316, 586 A.2d 362 (1990); Blumenschein v. Pittsburgh Housing Authority, 379 Pa. 566, 109 A .2d 331 (1954). Appellate courts may interfere in an agency decision only when there has been a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion or a purely arbitrary execution of the agency’s duties or functions.  Although the Commonwealth Court is required to correct abuses of discretion involving penalties and sanctions imposed by a licensing board, the appeal court may not substitute its discretion for that of the board, which is an administrative body endowed with expertise in matters subject to its jurisdiction. Burnworth v. State Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers, and Salespersons, 589 A.2d 294 (Pa . Cmwlth.1991).

Call me to discuss your case on appeal.

 

 

 

Disciplinary Action – Scope of Practice Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners (“CRNP”) can prescribe medication, examine patients, diagnose illnesses, and provide treatment, much like physicians do. In fact, nurse practitioners have what’s referred to as “full practice authority” in 20 states, meaning that they do not have to work under the supervision of a doctor. In the Pennsylvania, however, while CRNPs still have more authority than RNs, they must have a medical doctor sign on certain patient care decisions.

Nurse practitioners are increasingly becoming integral to medical teams as more and more hospitals and healthcare facilities are utilizing their expertise. Their experience as working nurses gives them a unique approach to patient care, while their advanced studies qualify them to take on additional duties that are usually left to physicians.

There are many different ways CRNP are exposed to practicing outside the scope of their practice.  Dispensing medications incorrectly or without a prescription is the first and foremost.  CRNPs are especially vulnerable to disciplinary action as they hold prescriptive authority to dispense Schedule II and other non-scheduled medications.  This blog will address CRNP’s legal duties.

CRNP’s must collaborate with a physician who holds a current license to practice in the Commonwealth.  When acting in collaboration with a physician in a “collaborative agreement” within the CRNP‘s specialty, the CRNP may perform comprehensive assessments of patients and establish medical diagnosis, perform and supervise diagnostic tests, institute referrals, develop treatment plans, establish prescriptive authority approvals for pharmaceutical treatments, complete admission and discharge summary’s, and order various supplemental therapeutic medical care. Supplemental medical care includes dietary plans, home health care and hospice, durable medical equipment, physical therapy and dietitian referrals, respiratory and occupational therapy referrals, and perform initial assessments of methadone treatment evaluations.

Methadone treatment and evaluations can be accomplished in conjunction with approval of a physician in the Pennsylvania methadone treatment regulations.  In this time of opioid crisis, CRNP’s prescribing methadone is a huge issue. CRNPs have sought clarification of their authority and qualifications to prescribe Suboxone.  63 PS § 21.283(c) of the Pennsylvania Code sets forth CRNP’s prescriptive authority.

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Every two years CRNP must complete 16 hours of board approved CE credits in pharmacology.  Initially, CRNPs require 45 hours of coursework specific to advanced pharmacology through the a professional nurse education program within five years before initial prescriptive authority approval. Board prescribing and dispensing schedule II restrictions include only 30-day supply authorizations and only in conjunction with a collaborative agreement setting forth such authorization by the physician in the agreement.

CRNP are limited to prescribing 90-day supplies of schedule III and IV controlled substances, which physician based authority is identified in the collaborative agreement. CRNP may not delegate prescriptive authority to other RNs working in the practice. CRNPs may not issue pre-signed prescriptions, must receive a national provider identifier number, and all prescriptions must include the CRNP’s name, title, and Pennsylvania CRNP certification number.  All labeling, packaging, dispensing, administering, and prescribing must be done in compliance with all other federal and state regulations and Pennsylvania Department of Health chapter 28 code of regulations.

CRNPs must register with the DEA and follow DEA minimum standards when prescribing, administering or dispensing controlled substances.  DEA federal regulations require the CRNP to properly conduct and documents their initial evaluation, physical examination, receipt and review the patient’s medical and medication history.  The physical evaluation includes examining the heart, lungs, vital signs, pain level, and body functions that relate to the patient specific complaint. Re-evaluation‘s and follow up should follow accordingly.

Patient counseling and medical records review are warranted to properly document symptoms observed and reported, diagnosis of any condition for which the controlled substance is being given, and the directions for administration. If the CRNP continues to prescribe the controlled substance, medical records must reflect changes to symptoms observed and reported and modification, alteration, or a limitation of any diagnosis of the condition for which the controlled substance is being given and the directions given to the patient.

The CRNP may dispense emergency, short-term prescriptions in conjunction with examination, evaluation, and proper diagnosis if such is then documented in the patient’s medical record.  Any emergency prescription must be delivered to the pharmacist within three days, and the emergency prescription may not be refilled or issued consecutive to an emergency prescription unless there is a follow-up physical examination.

Compliance with the terms and conditions of CRNP prescriptive authority is not necessarily compliance with Nursing Board scope of practice or standards that are acceptable and the prevailing practice.  Compliance with the above PA Code minimum standards does not restrict Nursing Board disciplinary action CRNPs based upon violations of the Drug Act or any other nursing licensing regulation.

Federal and State Drug Act issues address improper prescription dispensing, improper charting, failing to chart, or performing medical malpractice in the course of acting outside the scope as a CRNP.   Mere compliance with PA Code rudimentary medical practice and charting responsibilities and basic medical care giving duties does not shield the CRNPs from scope of practice and other claims.

CRNP scope of practice is governed by the collaborative agreement by and between the supervising physician and CRNP along with any large scale institutional employment job position limitations. Improperly administering medications earlier than the time set forth in a prescription and refilling daily, weekly, or 30 day prescriptions will well necessary trigger employment or board based disciplinary issues.

This is why the prescriptive authority established in the collaborative agreement between a physician and a CRNP  must satisfy very specific requirements. The collaborative agreements must be in writing, identifying the category of drugs this specific CRNP is allowed to prescribe as per their certified practice.   The collaborating physician obviously must sign the agreement and a copy must be submitted to the Bureau Professional and Occupational Affairs.

The agreement must be updated every two years, or whenever the agreement is changed, and must identify the professional liability insurance limits the physician’s policy provides.  Anytime the prescriptive authority in the collaborative agreement is updated or terminated, the CRNP (and no one else) shall notify the Board in writing of such changes. The CRNP is allowed to advertise or publicly display sign identifying their participation in a medical practice. A licensed CRNP may include such nomenclature after their name on any letterhead, business cards, and practice advertising.

CRNP must undertake and only engage in their specific practice area and only perform procedures in which they have necessary knowledge, preparation, experience and competency to properly execute.  CRNP practice is limited in scope to only their specialty and consistent with their CRNP collaborative agreement. This is the scope of practice provision that allows for the allegation CRNP prescribing medication drugs or other items outside the scope of their practice.

Certification as a CRNP may be suspended, revoked, or otherwise subjected to remedial measures when, after notice of and an opportunity for a hearing, the board finds that a CRNP has engaged and performed medical functions and tasks beyond the scope of practice permitted for a CRNP, that CRNP specially, or in violation of the collaborative agreement.  This is the general, catchall provision, for a potential penalty, based upon the allegation that a CRNP performed a medical function for which the CRNP does not have the necessary knowledge, preparation, experience and competency to perform properly or is not qualified under the CRNP Act.

Call me to discuss your case.

PHMP versus RAMP: A Big Difference

I write blogs about Pennsylvania professional licensing legal developments.  I am also licensed to practice law in New Jersey. I routinely counsel Pennsylvania professionals concerned about their NJ licenses.  There is a huge difference between Pennsylvania’s PHMP and New Jersey’s RAMP (“Recovery and Monitoring Program “).  RAMP was established in 2003 as an Alternative to Discipline program, managed by the Institute for Nursing for the New Jersey Board of Nursing. http://njsna.org/ramp/

Pennsylvania medical professionals who live in New Jersey or Pennsylvania residents also licensed in NJ, but only use their PA  licenses, are exposed to RAMP.  (Obviously also are NJ licensees working in NJ.)  Any Pennsylvania medical professional, who is also licensed in NJ – who receives Pennsylvania PHMP letter – must consider how RAMP will respond if Pennsylvania restricts their professional license.  Any Pennsylvania disciplinary action based upon an alleged impairment of alcohol and drugs will come to NJ’s RAMP attention. Also, NJ licensees must carefully respond to RAMP communications.

A recent NJ appellate case reveals just how different RAMP is from Pennsylvania’s PHMP.  On November 16, 2017 a New Jersey appellate court decided In The Matter of the license of Kevin Rafferty, RN.  He was a certified registered nurse anesthetist and an Advanced Practice Nurse.  Mr. McCafferty‘s licensing problems began in 2013 when three co-workers smelled alcohol on his breath during work.  They levied anonymous complaints to the Nursing Board, which contacted RAMP. This was the only evidence against him.

RAMP contacted  Rafferty via letter, setting forth the allegations that he may have problems related to mental health and or substance-abuse that could affect his ability to practice his profession.  RAMP offered him a private letter agreement and enrollment for a minimum of 90 days.  During this time RAMP requires random observed drug tests, monthly self evaluation reports, and regular attendance in peer support meetings.  Post-enrollment, RAMP then requires an initial intake evaluation.  In my experience this evaluation typically  finds the professional needs to be in RAMP for 12 months.  The 90-day initial RAMP invite is a fraud!

It is this context (which the McCaffrey case reveals)  that RAMP’s enrollment process is distinctly different from Pennsylvania’s PHMP.  RAMP’s initial letter of invite is not really an offer, but an order to each licensee.  PHMP’s initial “Letter of Concern” is a non-mandatory offer for help and does not constitute a demand to enroll.

RAMP’s initial 90-day evaluation period is not based upon a medical expert assessment or determination the licensee suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction that renders them an impaired professional. That assessment comes only after RAMP enrollment and signing of the RAMP 90-day contract.  The licensee is then stuck.

The RAMP evaluation takes place after enrollment, when the agreement sign requires compliance with the terms and condition of the program.  Licensee thinking they are just going to get the 90 days meet the expert, who determines more time in RAMP is required. Now they are stuck and can’t break the agreement.

PHMP’s letter of concern offers an assessment and voluntary disclosure to determine in an impairment exists.   PHMP requires either a finding of an impairment or a voluntary admission of such before enrollment in the program.  Pennsylvania Voluntary Recovery Program (“VRP”) questionnaire includes a provision that the licensee admit to suffering from an impairment.  This is the voluntary admission part of the VRP contract.  I counsel against signing this agreement.  NEVER ADMIT you are an impaired professional.Wait for the Board to file a formal petition to Compel and Mental and Physical Evaluation.  (See my other blogs.)

McCaffrey did not respond the the initial 90 day RAMP letter.  He was determined to be “non-compliant“ with RAMP.  RAMP notified the Nursing Board that “it could not insure the board or the public that McCaffrey was safe to practice.”  The Board subpoenaed McCaffrey to appear before a committee of the Board to answer questions about  appearing at work smelling of alcohol.  McCaffrey appeared, denied the allegations, and brought numerous letters of reference.  The Board still concluded he should enroll in RAMP and proposed a 2nd private letter agreement requiring McCaffery participate.  He refused.

The Board issued a provisional order of discipline compelling McCaffrey to submit to an evaluation and monitoring to determine whether his continued practice may jeopardize the safety and welfare of the public.  This is a distinct different legal standard and burden of proof compared to Pennsylvania’s impairment burden of proof.

NJ’s licensing boards and Courts have long recognized a “community care-taking responsibility” as legal justification that allows government license restriction.  The NJ Nursing Board thereafter issued a final order compelling McCaffrey to enroll in RAMP. The Board determined such was required to satisfy its “mandate to protect the public.” McCaffrey‘s failure to comply with this final order was reported to the national practitioner data Bank. Still no medical determination of any impairment!

McCaffery appealed claiming there was no medical or legal basis to compel RAMP and that absent such, a general order requiring such denied him due process of law.   The appellate court reviewed McCaffrey’s objections to the Board’s order. The appellate court determined the Board maintains oversight over professional licensing for nurses pursuant to the Nursing Law.  Because the New Jersey professional nursing law requires an applicant not be a “habitual user of drugs and alcohol”, McCaffrey‘s potential for alcohol and drug abuse rendered him suspect of meeting the legal requirements of both the Nursing Licensing and Nurse Anesthetist laws.  The court found the Board had the authority even absent a medical conclusion of any impairment.

McCaffrey complained that absent an expert determination that he was impaired or suffered from a chemical dependency, he met the requirements for licensure.  The Board rejected this argument. The court determined the Nursing Board was within its statutory authority based upon the factual allegations, even without even an expert evaluation, that the Board was within its authority to compel McCaffrey to participate in the 90 day private letter RAMP program.  The decision was handed down in 2017.  McCaffrey’s work place situation occurred in 2013.

For the many licenses that practice in Pennsylvania, these procedural differences between the PHMP and RAMP are significant and should be respected. Pennsylvania’s regulatory and statutory framework allow for licensee participation in and evaluation by a board chosen medical expert before mandatory enrollment in the PHMP.  NJ does not allow for this pre-enrollment evaluation, compels participation, and then subjects the licensee to a bait and switch disciplinary monitoring program.

Please call me to discuss either of these programs and any letters you receive from your licensing board.

 

A Drug Act Conviction – An Automatic License Suspension – Not Revocation – with A Right of Reinstatement.

Pennsylvania’s Nursing Law has existed since 1951.  Between 1951 and May 1985 the Nursing Law did not include a provision automatically suspending a license upon conviction of a Controlled Substance Act felony.  In 1985, the Legislature revised the statute by adding Section 16.1 which states:

A license issued under this act shall automatically be suspended upon . . . conviction of a felony under the [Controlled Substance Act] . . .. As used in this section the term “conviction” shall include a judgment, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere. . . . Restoration of such license shall be made as in the case of revocation or suspension of such license.

McGrath v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, No. 5 WAP 2017, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 3109, at *12-13 (Nov. 22, 2017).  Once issued, nursing licenses may be suspended or revoked by the Board. As set forth in Section 14 of the Law, the Board may suspend or revoke a license if it makes certain findings. See 63 P.S. § 224(a), (b)(3). Additionally, the Board may refuse to issue an initial license for these same reasons.

McGrath’s nursing license was automatically suspended – not revoked – when she was convicted of violating the Drug Act (it seems a felony).  McGrath petitioned for reinstatement of her nursing sometime shorter than 10 years.  McGrath argued the Nursing Act’s provision for reinstatement allowed for the Board to grant such application within its discetion at any time, not earlier then 10 years stated under a separate provision of the Nursing Act.

She won in the Commonwealth Court and the Nursing Board took an appeal to the Supreme Count. The issue is “In view of the absence of an explicit directive for restoration of an automatically-suspended license which has not been revoked, should the court follow the 10 year reinstatement period or shorter.

I have written about the consequences of a Drug Act conviction many times.  The automatic suspension and delayed eligibility for either reinstatement or revocation present substantial impediments to practicing licensee.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in McGrath determines that after the Nursing Board has suspended a license, it may restore or reissue the license in its discretion (less than 10 years) subject to any disciplinary or corrective measure it could have originally imposed. § 224(b)(6). The process for doing so is reflected in Section 15 of the Nursing Law, which states, in pertinent part:

All suspensions and revocations shall be made only in accordance with the regulations of the Board, and only by majority vote of the members of the Board after a full and fair hearing before the Board…. The Board, by majority action and in accordance with its regulations, may reissue any license which has been suspended. If a license has been revoked, the Board can reissue a license only in accordance with section 15.2.
63 P.S. § 225. There are distinct procedures for the restoration of suspended versus revoked licenses, and it imposes a more restrictive regimen in relation to revoked licenses. In addition to the discretionary suspension of licenses under Sections 14 and 15, the Nursing Law contains a provision, added in 1985, for automatic suspension due to a felony conviction under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.  63 P.S. § 225.1(b).  In particular, Section 15.1(b) of the Law states:
A license issued under this act shall automatically be suspended upon … conviction of a felony under the [Controlled Substance Act] …. As used in this section the term “conviction” shall include a judgment, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere…. Restoration of such license shall be made as hereinafter provided in the case of revocation or suspension of such license.
(emphasis added). In terms of the “hereinafter provided” clause of the above text, Section 15.2 indicates:
Unless ordered to do so by Commonwealth Court or an appeal therefrom, the Board shall not reinstate the license of a person to practice nursing … which has been revoked. Any person whose license has been revoked may reapply for a license, after a period of at least five (5) years, but must meet all of the licensing qualifications of this act for the license applied for, to include the examination requirement, if he or she desires to practice at any time after such revocation.
Finally, Section 6(c) of the Nursing Law, which relates to the qualifications for licensure, specifies that if a nursing license applicant has been convicted of a felony under the Controlled Substance Act, the Board may not issue a nursing license to that person unless: ten years have passed since the date of the conviction; the applicant demonstrates significant progress in rehabilitation so that licensure is not expected to create a substantial risk to patients or the public; and the applicant otherwise satisfies the licensure qualifications set forth in the Law. See63 P.S. § 216(c).
The McGrath Supreme Court specific states a professional nurse who has been licensed but whose license has been suspended is not similarly situated to an individual who has never been licensed—or, for that, matter, a person who was once licensed but whose license has been revoked. See generally Brown v. State Bd. of Pharmacy, 129 Pa. Cmwlth. 642, 646, 566 A.2d 913, 915 (1989) (acknowledging that a person holding a professional license still possesses a property right in that license even where it has been suspended (but not revoked), as a suspended license is “susceptible to revival”); Pittenger v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, 142 Pa. Cmwlth. 57, 61–62, 596 A.2d 1227, 1229–30 (1991) (same, and expressing further that “when a license … is revoked, it is extinguished and the former possessor is returned to the same position he occupied had the license or privilege never been issued” (quoting Keeley v. State Real Estate Comm’n, 93 Pa. Cmwlth. 291, 296, 501 A.2d 1155, 1158 (1985))).
Having conclude that reinstatement is eligible in less that ten years, such is still within the discretion of the Board.  More importantly, the Court affirmed the proposition that

Section 15.1(b) reflects a clear legislative policy judgment that a felony violation of the Controlled Substances Act is an especially serious infraction warranting an automatic license suspension.  “The Board [still possesses] … discretion to restore such a license in the manner applicable to other license suspensions after conducting an appropriate administrative review.”
This huge legal victory, is however, probably short lived.  The McGrath Court simply counsel’s the Board to seeking revocation of a license, in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Nursing Law, following a conviction under the Controlled Substances Act. See63 P.S. § 224(a)(8) (authorizing the Board to impose discipline, up to and including revocation, based on the acquisition, possession, distribution, or use of a controlled substance for other than acceptable medical purposes).  (“The Board could have sought revocation of Ms. McGrath’s license [under Section 14] … but it did not.” (emphasis omitted)). If an automatically-suspended license is ultimately revoked, reinstatement would then be governed by Section 15.2.
The McGrath lesson is two fold.  The case reveals very poor legislative drafting that creates a loop-hole, for suspended licensees convicted of Drug Act violations, which allows them to seek to seek license reinstatement under ten years when they have a good reason.  However, either the General Assembly will fix this statutory construction problem or the Board will change its policy and start revoking licenses of those professionals convicted of Drug Act violations.
Call me to discuss your criminal matter and the status of your license.

 

Medical Marijuana and the Pitfalls for the Professional

The pitfalls of medical marijuana for the professional are more evident every day. Several weeks ago I wrote a blog on the challenges facing licensees who seek a medical marijuana card due to a medical condition. Prescription Drug History   In another blog I wrote about the complexities facing medical professionals who seek to become medical marijuana authorized prescribers.

 

In Pot Doc Article the Philadelphia Inquirer reveals Pennsylvania’s Medical Board, Health Department, FBI, and DEA investigatory practices in this field.  If you are a medical professional, please read this article.  I represented a peripheral, part time doctor moon lighting for Dr. Nikparavarfard.

Doctors working in a medical practice that includes a “Pot Doc“ – doctors that are authorized to write prescriptions for medical marijuana – are subjecting themselves to unnecessary oversight and inquiry.  When a  “Pot Doc” exposes himself to both criminal and licensing  investigations, they expose all nurses or doctors employed by that practice.  Drug Act violations are routinely found and criminal charges filed!.

The FBI and DEA’s investigation of Dr. Nikparvarfard’s Scranton office – the Pot Doc – necessarily also included  my client’s prescribing patterns.  An invasive, long running investigation turned to her simply because the police were investigating that practice and needed leverage against Dr. Nikparvarfard.  Experienced and accomplished undercover FBI, DEA, Health Department agents then ensnared my client.  Again, only because they were looking at Dr. Nik’s practice.

My client was not the prescribing “Pot Doc.”  However, the overarching Pot Doc investigation expanded to any potential criminal activity discovered within the medical practice.  But for my client working for the Pot doc and his medical practice, my client would not have been under surveillance. Unfortunately she was.

Once my client became known to FBI, her prescription and Medicaid/Medicare billing patterns were easily examined, patients contacted, and medical procedures evaluated.  Undercover patients were sent to the practice.  All because of the attention brought on the practice by Pot Doc Nikparvarfard.

One bad apple spoils the pie; two or three bad apples subject professionals to jail.  These types of investigations render medical professionals (nurses and doctors) unemployed and potentially unemployable.  Thereafter, professionals are the target of multiple investigations by medical boards, DEA,  Health Departments, and potentially the U.S. Department of justice.  But for my client’s employment with a Pot Doc, she would not have come under any surveillance.

This case is but one example of many to come.  Overarching public safety concerns, opiates in the news, and an aggressive enforcement environment of a new regulatory scheme create huge risks for both Pot Docs and those doctors and nurses who work with them.

Please call me to discuss

Birchfield, Rufusals, and PennDot’s DL – 26B Form

In many pending 2017 Pennsylvania DUI and civil license refusal cases stemming for arrests between April 2016 and July 2017 police officers administered incorrect chemical test warnings to Pennsylvania motorists.  Use of the DL 26B form, I think, is legally insufficient pursuant to the then effective 75 Pa.C.S. § 1547(b)(2).  Counsel should file suppression motions.  A corollary issue is whether these drivers are capable as a matter of law of refusing the blood test where the police officer testifies he read the illegal PennDOT DL-26B form.

In May/June 2016 PennDOT created the new DL 26B form in response to Birchfield.  Birchfield held that criminally coercing a blood draw — compelling a defendant to testify/provide blood evidence against themselves or face jail time — is unconstitutional.  After Birchfield, enhanced penalties and threats of jail to secure evidence in DUI cases require suppression of blood evidence.  In response PennDOT changed its DUI informed consent form, the DL 26B document that local and state police read to DUI suspects when the want the suspect to give blood.  The General Assembly did not give PennDOT authority to do this.  This is the topic of this blog.

The suppression argument is as follows:  The arresting officer’s warnings to the DUI suspect fail to comply with Section 1547(b)(2) in that the driver was not advised that refusing the chemical test would result in enhanced criminal penalties (i.e. the penalties provided in Section 3804(c)) as § 1547(b) (pre-July 2017) requires.  While there is no statutory or other requirement that any DL-26 Form contain appropriate warnings, or that the form be read verbatim, it is nonetheless the duty of the police officer to inform the petitioner of the statutorily required warnings.  (See Section 1547(b)(2)).  In other words, if the police officer recites the appropriate warnings from memory without the use of any form at all that is perfectly acceptable under the law.  If an officer confirms the only warnings provided were those contained on the DL-26B Form, those warnings are not consistent with the statutory law prior to July 2017.

This date is important because on July 20, 2017, the governor approved Act 30 of 2017 which provides for an amendment to Section 1547(b)(2), removing language requiring a police officer to provide the warnings relating to enhanced criminal penalties for refusal. While this amendment was not effective on the date of petitioner’s incident, the fact that the legislature  amended  it is indicative  of its acknowledgement that such an amendment was necessary to effectuate the change required of the warnings pursuant to Birchfield.

Importantly, the §1547 pre-July 2017 statute includes the word shall.   The legislature’s use of the term “shall” establishes that police officers must comply with the §1547 language mandate. In Comm v. Weaver, the 2006 Pennsylvania Supreme Court interprets §1547(b)(2) verbiage (the same was in effect on prior to July 2017) reaching the same conclusion.  Following the September 2003 amendments to the Implied Consent Law, PennDOT implemented the language of§ 1547(b)(2)(ii) into a new DL-26 form. This led to a significant amount of litigation over whether the warnings printed on the December 2003 version of the Department of Transportation’s DL-26 form were sufficient to satisfy the requirements of§ 1547(b)(2). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Weaver, held that the warnings printed on that version of the DL-26 form were legally sufficient to satisfy those requirements.  In reaching its decision, the Weaver Court stated:

The legislature’s use of the term “shall” clearly establishes that police officers must comply with  this mandate.   Subparagraph (ii) commands police officers to inform an arrestee that “(ii) upon conviction, plea or adjudication of delinquency for violating section 3802(a), the person will be subject to penalties provided in section 3804(c) (relating to penalties).” The words of this statute are clear and free from all ambiguity; thus, we will glean the legislative intent from those words. The plain language requires only that the officer inform the arrestee that if he is convicted of DUI, refusal will result in additional penalties.

Accordingly, under the plain language of the statute, the warnings set forth in the 2017 version of § 1547(b)(2) are mandatory and must be strictly complied with in order to suspend a motorist’s operating privilege pursuant to the Vehicle Code. Previously, in very certain terms, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has held that, in requesting a chemical test, the police officer must inform the arrestee of the consequences of refusal and notify the arrestee that there is no right to consult with an attorney before making a decision. See O’Connell, 555 A.2d at 877-78.12 “An arrestee is entitled to this information so that his choice to take a [chemical] test can be knowing and conscious.” Id. at 878. The choice belongs to the arrestee, not the police officer.

In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation v Kennedy, 66 A.3d 818 (Pa. Comw. 2013), the Court says that:

“the warning delivered to [licensee] fully complies with the statutory requirements. The statute simply does not require any specific explanation as to the length of the civil suspension and does not require explanation of criminal penalties set forth in §3804(c). The statute requires only that the police provide notice that refusal will result in license suspension and, that if the licensee is driving under the influence, refusal will result in additional penalties. [The licensee] receives this information. Kennedy requires that the officer deliver only the statutory authorized 1547(b) authorized penalties of a refusal. While there is no specific language that the Courts have determined these police officers must read licensees, once the officer begins notifying potential motorists of license refusal consequences, only those consequences that are set forth in the statute must be read.”

Our Pennsylvania Supreme Court has confirmed police officers’ obligation to advise motorists of the exact warning contained in §1547(b)(2). In this 15 month period, police officers utilizing the DL-26B form did not comply with statutory law requiring the correct consequences be advised to these motorists. PennDOT’s utilization of the revised DL-26B was not sanctioned by the General Assembly and not legally effective on the date and time of these arrest render the information provided to them insufficient as a matter of law.

§1547 prior to July 2017 required reading all language contained therein, even those provisions deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. This tension between the current statutory laws and judicial decisions create a situation fraught with potential that motorists will not receive sufficient information to make a voluntary, informed decision regarding consent to the requested chemical testing.

The complex criminal versus civil application of Birchfield, Weaver, Kennedy, supra, is born out in Boseman v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 157 A.3d 10 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017), and Gray v. Commonwealth , Dep’t of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, No. 1759 C.D. 2016, 2017 WL 2536439, at *7–8 (Pa. Commw. Ct. June 9, 2017), reargument denied (Aug. 7, 2017).  These cases maintain  arresting officer’s statutory obligation to inform a motorist of the General Assembly’s defined § 1547(b)’s ramifications of a refusal – not PennDOT’s version.

In Boseman  and Gray, supra, Commonwealth Court states Birchfield does not apply to PennDOT license suspension refusal cases. As such, any court finding that Birchfield effectively compelled PennDOT to unilaterally re-write the 1547(b) mandatory warning, to a non-statutorily authorized version, is not supported by the Commonwealth Court’s application of Birchfield in the §1547(b) refusal context. Boseman, Gray, Weaver, Kennedy, supra.

In Gray and Boseman, supra, Judge McCullough dissents.  Judge McCullough convincingly points out the incongruity of the constitutional right of privacy and self-incrimination Birchfield establishes (adopted by Commonwealth v. Evans, 153 A.3d 323 (Pa. Super. 2016)) and Commonwealth Court’s dismissing such argument in the civil license suspension context when ONLY a state based property right (a motor vehicle operator’s license) is at issue.

In Price v. Commonwealth, Dep’t of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing,, No. 1873 C.D. 2016, 2017 WL 4321625, at *6 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sept. 29, 2017), Judge McCullough concurs in the result (she is constrained to follow Boseman, supra) but reiterates her position set forth in Gray and Boseman.  However, Judge Cosgroves dissents:

While Birchfield is not directly applicable here, it does stand for a principle which the former DL–26 does not reflect. And while Birchfield allows implementation of civil penalties for refusal to submit to a blood test in cases such as this, it does not give states permission to misinform a licensee as to the consequences of a refusal.

As such, Courts may, on alternative grounds, conclude Birchfield applies in the civil, administrative license suspension realm as a driver’s licenses in this day and age constitutes a property right to which criminal threat of incarceration to surrender (the proper § 1547(b) language to be read but was not) violates her constitutional rights, voiding any refusal. This conclusion is sought even though the DL-26 Form with the enhanced penalties was not read to these motorists.  It was still required to be read, but was not.

Call me to discuss your case.

 

Northampton County’s 1861 Court Room!!

Finding the diamond in the rough. That describes my recent drive to the Northampton County Courthouse. As my law practice takes me from the Philadelphia’s suburban counties to northeastern Pennsylvania, I routinely travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and its Northeast extension.
The drive this July week was rough. The weather forecast proved accurate; rain and fog through the Lehigh Valley. It was raining so hard, I missed my exit off Rt 476E at Rt 22 E. I drove an additional 20 miles each direction, turning around in Jim Thorpe. (I love the Carbon County Courthouse – see my other blogs – but I was not going there today.)
 I was uncharacteristically late, arriving at 9:25 am for a 9:00 am hearing.  I was otherwise safe.  The judge was extremely gracious and polite. The case was handled quickly.  Opposing counsel – a local assistant district attorney – offered a tour of the courthouse as I expressed my appreciation for our hearing taking place in the old courthouse, courtroom 3, as compared to the new 2004 building.
The county website states, “The original court house was built in  1764. Nearly a century later and after the courthouse had experienced a number of historical events, which included being used as a barracks by Revolutionary troops, a group of citizens petitioned for a new County Courthouse at a different location. On August 23, 1860, the County Commissioners decided to accept land offered at a price of $1.00 that was located several blocks west of the original facility.   A new brick structure was later built on a steep hill at a cost of $53,000. The first term of court was held in the new facility on June 18, 1861.  Since then, two additional wings were constructed to accommodate the growth of Northampton County and satisfy the judicial needs of the expanded population.  The second part of the courthouse was built in 1978 and the third in 2004. “
I was interested in the 1861 building and court room 1.  Finished at the out set of the Civil War.   Wow!! A majestic legal theater, refurbished in 1978 to match the import to the community when the courthouse was built. Original woodwork, plaster, and paint are renewed. County Commissioners rightfully chose to not clutter the court room with of a phalanx of computer cables, microphones, and other modern day accoutrements that clutter some other county courtrooms in which I practice.
The pictures below reveal the courtroom’s grand entrance, judicial bench, and the jury box of the times. The remarkable woodwork and attention to detail immediately reveals itself. The artisans of Pennsylvania’s counties knew their work would be on display at every important and public event of the times. The honor and respect they earned working for their local government on the most important building in the county.

Call a Lawyer, Not the Licensing Board, When Contacted by Board Counsel or Investigators

My administrative law practice takes me before many of Pennsylvania’s licensing boards and in hearings that address a variety of disciplinary actions.  It is during Pennsylvania’s professional licensing boards’ bimonthly meetings that disciplinary matters are commenced, reviewed, or finalized.  This is why after a given board’s monthly meeting I typically receive a wave of calls from new clients, mail that initiates disciplinary action in pending cases, or final decisions in cases.

Potential disciplinary actions a board may commence include: 1) reciprocal disciplinary actions; 2) emergency petitions to immediately take a license; 3) objections to license applications; 4)  approval of different consent agreements; 5) approval or rejection of hearing officer’s proposed adjudications; and 6) reviewing cases sent back from the Commonwealth Court for issuance of revised disciplinary action. Also, several boards have subcommittees that approve probable cause petitions compelling licensees to undergo mental and physical of evaluations.

After bimonthly board meetings I receive calls from both current or potential clients inquiring “What I should do? Who should I talk to?  or What information should be disclosed?   Many callers disclose prior conversations with board counsel, investigators, PHMP assessors, or other board representatives. I cringe when I hear this.

 

Board representatives, prosecutors, administrators, and/or medical professionals do not represent the licensee. These people are tasked with enforcing board regulations. They are tasked with complying with each and every administrative procedural requirement (of which the licensee has no idea). They are tasked with securing information against the licensee who is potentially, or actually, subject to disciplinary action. These people do not look out for the best interest of the licensee.  DO NOT TALK TO THESE PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR CASE, FACTS, OR MEDICAL CONDITIONS.  THEY WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.

 

Board administrators and PHMP office staff are not sophisticated licensed professionals. They are unfamiliar with the actual medical issues, legal issues, or licensing process. They merely perform administrative functions. They lack any authority to adjust, regulate, or modify any correspondence.  Relying upon statements from these administrative level workers is frustrating and leads to incorrect practices.

 

I have heard on many occasions board clerical staff and social workers advise licensees and/or license applicants to cooperate – give statements or do other inaccurate suggestions – that are not in the licensees best interest.  Administrative workers routinely do not recommend hiring counsel to secure a better, more complete, or correct legal advice on how to respond to the legal correspondence  just received in the mail.

 

That is why I say do not contact these boards, rely upon what any administrator says, or even hope that they give you correct advice. Call an attorney and secure proper legal advice.  The best analogy I can give is: Do you call a doctor’s office and follow medical advice dispensed by the phone receptionist or want to talk to RN, LPN, or M.D.?  The obvious answer is no.  So why would you do that when calling a licensing board about your professional license you utilize every day?

 

Please call me to discuss the recent board ordered disciplinary correspondence you just received!

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