A Look at How Complaints are Filed Against Your Professional License

You’ve Received a Complaint against your Professional License:  Now what?

 

Are you a licensed professional?  Have you ever received a letter from the Office of the Indiana Attorney General regarding a professional complaint?  If you have, I’m sure you are desperately searching the internet for answers. We are glad you landed here.
Regardless of the field, if your chosen profession requires licensure then you’re subject to certain statutory standards of care that you must follow.  The standards of care for health care professionals can be found under IC 25-1-9 and for non-healthcare professionals under IC 25-1-11.  What happens when those standards of care aren’t followed?  Well, consumers have the ability to file a complaint against you.  Once that complaint has been filed, what happens next?
Complaints against licensed professionals* are governed by IC 25-1-7; the code governs all regulated occupations and can include not just licensed professionals, but certified or registered professionals as well.  A complaint against a licensed professional can be made by anyone and must be signed, in writing and filed directly through the Office of the Indiana Attorney General Consumer Protection Division (the “Division”), which is the office statutorily responsible for receiving, investigating and prosecuting complaints concerning all regulated occupations.
There are two exceptions here:

1) when a complaint involves a physician, the medical licensing board of Indiana will investigate such complaints, and

2) when the complaint involves a cosmetologist or barber, the state board of cosmetology and barber examiners shall investigate such complaints.

Sometimes consumers may make complaints through the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, but all will ultimately end up with the Attorney General’s office.
A complaint against a licensed professional can range anywhere from an ethical violation to professional malpractice.  After a complaint is received, the Division, but for the exceptions listed above, has the responsibility of investigating the complaint.  The Division will take the following initial steps when a complaint is received:

  • Make an initial determination as to the merit of each complaint;
  • If merit is found, serve a copy of the complaint to the board having jurisdiction over the licensee’s regulated occupation. (The board that has jurisdiction over your regulated occupation will be the same board you received your license from.  For example, if you are a registered nurse then the Indiana State Board of Nursing will have jurisdiction over all complaints filed against you);
  • Through any reasonable means, notify the licensee of the nature and ramifications of the complaint and of the duty of the board to attempt to resolve the complaint through negotiation; and
  • Keep the complainant updated regarding the status of the complaint.

Once the above steps are taken, a statutory 30-day period must elapse before the Division can investigate the complaint.  Here’s a look at what should, and can, happen during that 30-day period:

  • The board with appropriate jurisdiction has a duty to attempt to resolve the complaint through negotiation with the licensee. If requested by the board, that 30 days can be extended by no more than an additional 20 days.
  • If an agreement can be reached, the board and the licensee can file a signed statement with the Division that the complaint has been resolved, at which point the Division must not take any further action.
  • If an agreement cannot be reached or, if prior to the expiration of the 30-day waiting period, the board notifies the Division of its intention not to proceed further with negotiation, the Division can immediately proceed with its investigation.

An investigation must be limited to the areas in which it appears there is a violation of the statutory standards of care and the Division has the power to subpoena witnesses, compel the production of books, records, papers, and documents.  If the Division finds that disciplinary action should be taken, they will report so to the attorney general.  At this point, the attorney general, on behalf of the state of Indiana, may prosecute the matter via petition before the board, at which point a public hearing will be scheduled.  All complaints up to this point are confidential, unless disclosure is required under law or for advancement of the investigation, and are held in strict confidence until the attorney general files notice with the board of its intent to prosecute.  It’s important a practitioner knows their rights in these situations!
The disciplinary hearings are held before the board or before an administrative law judge that has been appointed by the board.  Under IC 25-1-9-15 and IC 25-1-11-18, the licensee may be responsible for the cost of disciplinary proceedings, which can include, but are not limited to, deposition costs, postage costs, transcript costs, and administrative law judge costs.  At this hearing, the board has the power to call witnesses and this is in addition to any witnesses that you as the licensee may want to call or that the state may call.  As mentioned above, complaints can range from an ethical violation all the way to professional malpractice and the disciplinary hearing is going to focus on whether the licensee has violated the standards of care prescribed by statute for that particular profession.  If disciplinary action is deemed necessary, IC 25-1-9-9 and IC 25-1-11-12 lay out the sanctions that may be taken.  Here’s a quick look at some of those sanctions:

  • Permanently revoke a practitioner’s license.
  • Suspend a practitioner’s license.
  • Censure a practitioner. Censure is an expression of official disapproval and is part of your official record, but does not affect the status of your license.
  • Issue a letter of reprimand. Again, part of your official record that you have been disciplined, but does not affect the status of your license.
  • Place a practitioner on probation status and require the practitioner to:
    1. Report regularly to the board upon the matters that are the basis of probation;
    2. Limit practice to those areas prescribed by the board;
    3. Continue or renew professional education.
    4. Perform or refrain from performing any acts, including community restitution or service without compensation, that the board considers appropriate to the public interest or to the rehabilitation or treatment of the practitioner.
    5. Asses a fine against the practitioner in an amount not to exceed $1,000.
  • For a non-healthcare professional, the board may require the licensee to satisfactorily complete a qualify review specified by the board as a condition for termination of probation status.
  • A combination of any of the above.

If after the disciplinary hearing your license ends up suspended, the code states a licensee may be reinstated once the board determines, after another hearing, that the licensee is able to practice with reasonable skill, safety, and competency to the public; this standard is the same for both healthcare and non-healthcare professionals.  If your license ends up revoked, you may not receive reinstatement, but rather, you may reapply for a license after 7 years have passed from the date of the revocation.
There are instances where the board has the power to summarily suspend a practitioner’s license before final adjudication can be reached or during an appeals process.  Under both IC 25-1-9-10 and IC 25-1-11-13, if a board finds that the practitioner represents a clear and immediate danger to the public’s health, safety, or property (property is only for non-healthcare professionals) if the practitioner is allowed to continue to practice, the board may summarily suspend the license for 90 days.  This 90-day suspension can continue to be renewed for up to 90 days or less so long as a hearing is held.  A reasonable attempt to provide notice to the practitioner must be made by the Division and the statute clearly states that a reasonable attempt is made if the Division attempts to reach the practitioner by telephone or facsimile at the last known telephone number the practitioner placed on file with the board.  This standard seems pretty low—keep your records up-to-date!  You do not have the power to petition a court to stay or vacate a summary suspension based solely on the fact that you didn’t receive the notice if a reasonable attempt, or rather a simple phone call, was made.
As you can see, there are a lot of steps that must be taken and rights that you have as a licensed professional once you’ve received a complaint.  An experienced attorney can make sure none of your rights are violated during this process.  Call Banks & Brower, LLC at 317.870.0019 or email us at info@banksbrower.com — we are available 24/7/365!

*The term licensed professional is interchangeable to a certified or registered professional.

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