Arizona Appeals Court Affirms Dentist’s Suspension Over Questionable Prescriptions

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On December 13, 2016, an Arizona appeals court affirmed the suspension of a dentist who allegedly had a history of opioid addiction and who also allegedly wrote dozens of questionable prescriptions. The Arizona appeals court held that the state dental board didn’t violate his due process rights and had substantial evidence backing its decision that it wasn’t safe for him to practice.

The Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, concluded that the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners had acted within its authority by suspending Dr. Michael Wassef’s license to practice dentistry in the state. This was following Dr. Wassef’s refusal to submit to the dental board’s requests after it discovered evidence suggesting he had relapsed. The appeals court decision upheld a lower court’s decision affirming the dental board’s order.

History of Opioid Abuse?

Dr. Wassef’s possible relapse into opioid addiction reportedly first came to the attention of authorities in March 2014. This allegedly occurred when a pharmacist contacted the dental board to raise concerns about Dr. Wassef’s prescription-writing practices, according to the court’s decision. The board discovered that he had received prescriptions for controlled substances in increasing amounts over a six-year time period. Additionally, Dr. Wassef allegedly wrote 44 prescriptions in two years for the muscle relaxant Soma for his wife, his assistant and his assistant’s daughter, the opinion said.

After he tested positive for Soma and another medication, Dr. Wassef refused to submit to an assessment. As a result, the dental board issued an interim order that he obtain an inpatient substance-abuse evaluation, according to the opinion. He refused, and the dental board suspended his license in April 2014.

Arizona State Court Sides With Board.

Dr. Wassef contended that the board denied him due process by suspending his license without allowing him the opportunity to defend himself. Despite Wassef’s claims, the appeals court wasn’t swayed, explaining that the board didn’t have to give him a hearing before entering the interim order and can summarily suspend a licensee when it concludes.

The state board had more than enough evidence to conclude that Dr. Wassef was unsafe to practice dentistry, the appeals court panel held. “Under these circumstances, the board was not required to accept Dr. Wassef’s explanations and Dr. Wassef did not disprove the board’s suspicions,” the panel held. “Thus, the dental board had reasonable grounds to take emergency action to prevent harm to the public.”

To read the decision on this matter, click here.

To read more on the repercussions of choices such as this, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Serious Allegations Need Serious Legal Representation.

When a dentist, physician, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist, or other licensed health professional is accused of drug abuse or alcohol abuse, this is a very serious matter. As happened in this case, your license can be suspended putting you out of work and terminating your ability to pay for a legal defense.

Several things are a must. You must have good professional liability insurance that pays for the legal defense of complaints filed against your license, preferable with $50,000 or more of coverage for this type of event. Second, you must immediately retain experience health care legal counsel who deals with these types of cases routinely. Often there are options to such a harsh remedy as a suspension. Additionally, all the time spent from initial notification of the complaint, should be used in obtaining evidence to show that the dentist is not currently impaired. This can be routine random urinalysis testing, treatment with psychiatrist and certified addictions professionals, evaluation by special physicians health programs and other actions.

Usually, suspension is only appropriate when the physicians condition makes him an immediate threat to patient safety. Being able to prove that the physician is not a threat is te key to preventing a suspension. Also, using the time and money in appealing such a decision may, in may cases, be better used in requesting an emergency hearing and getting the evidence needed for that hearing.

Consult With An Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Dentists and Other Health Professionals.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents dentists, dental technicians, pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing dentists and dental hygienists and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of dentistry hearings and other legal matters. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Posses, Shayna. “Ariz. Court Backs Dentist’s Suspension Over Dubious Scripts.” Law360. (December 13, 2016). Web.

“Arizona Court Backs Dentist’s Suspension.” Lexis Nexis. (December 13, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for dentists, defense attorney for dentists, legal counsel for dentists and dental assistants, defense attorney for health care professionals, DEA investigation defense attorney, legal representation for DEA investigations, legal representation for board investigations, defense attorney for board of dentistry matters, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, dental board defense work, dental board investigations, impaired dentists, impaired professionals, physician health programs, administrative hearings, complaint investigation defense attorney for dentists, appeals (and variations on appeal ) of adverse license action, license revocation, emergency suspension orders, appeals of emergency suspension orders, Professionals Resources Network (PRN) attorney, Florida dentist defense attorney, Virginia dentist defense lawyer, Louisiana dentist defense legal counsel, Colorado dentist defense lawyer, Kentucky legal dentist defense counsel, District of Columbia dentist legal representation

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2016 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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Overcoming License Suspension and Revocation Pending Appeal

By: Lance O. Leider, J.D.

If you are a dentist or other licensed health professional whose license has been recently revoked or suspended, there may still be hope. Ordinarily, you must immediately stop practicing or you risk being prosecuted for unlicensed practice, a felony. Although this blog deals with Florida law, similar relief may be available in other states, too.

One of the hardest things about having a license suspended or revoked is that it immediately cuts off the licensee’s sole source of income. If you have a thriving practice, this will usually destroy any value your business has. Without income, paying your bills will be a challenge, much less the cost to fight the legal action or to appeal.

Even if you appeal the decision and win the appeal, you will be out of practice for many months, often more than a year, before your license is reinstated. You still have all the lost income and business, and you never get this time and money back.

Fortunately, Florida law provides an avenue for temporary relief from the adverse decision, so that you may retain your license and practice your profession pending appeal of your case. This legal process is called a writ of supersedeas.

What is Supersedeas Relief?

Supersedeas relief is a form of relief granted by a reviewing court (court of appeal) that suspends the enforcement of the judgement of the lower court (or agency) while the underlying issues are decided on appeal. What this means is that you can have the action to revoke or suspend your license put on hold while you appeal the decision of the Department of Health (DOH).

This relief is authorized in two separate places in Florida law: Section 120.68(3), Florida Statutes, and Rule 9.190(e)(2)(C), Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. Both of these provisions state that a reviewing court can grant a stay of enforcement of the revocation or suspension of a license pending review.

The relief is not automatic, however. Both provisions specifically prevent supersedeas from being granted if the licensee poses a probable threat to the health, safety or welfare of the state. Fortunately, it is the burden of the agency whose order is being reviewed to prove that there is a danger to the public.

Additionally, the Appellate Rule permits you to ask for expedited review. (Which of course is recommended because you want to be back to work as quickly as possible, right?) This means that the agency only has ten (10) days to file its opposition. This shortened time period may make it difficult for an overworked government attorney to file on time or to produce quality opposition.

Steps to Seeking Supersedeas Relief.

1. File an appeal of the Final Order revoking or suspending your license with the appropriate agency and a copy to the appellate court. Be sure to follow all appellate rules and instructions.

2. File a Petition for Expedited Supersedeas Relief with the appellate court at the same time.

3. If you receive a favorable ruling from the court, deliver that order to the licensing agency (in this case, the DOH) and request that your license be reinstated immediately.

Other Considerations.

It is important to note that this form of relief will not make the underlying action disappear. Your return to practice will only be temporary, unless you win the appeal. You will still have to show the licensing agency did something contrary to law when it imposed the discipline in order for the appellate court to overturn the decision. This is not often an easy task. Furthermore, the law only permits a thirty (30) day window in which to appeal the agency’s decision, after which your rights are lost and you are very likely stuck with the decision.

Appeals Are Very Technical and Require a Thorough, Specialized Knowledge of the Law.

What few people understand is that appeals are very technical and have complex, procedural rules that you must follow. An appeal of an agency final order is not the place to argue about the facts of your case or to try to prove different facts.

An appeal is all about the law and the court cases that have interpreted the law. Unless the agency (in this case your board) made a legal error and violated the law, you won’t win.

For an appeal, a person needs an attorney. To prevail on an appeal, you must have a detailed knowledge of the correct, relevant court cases and you must be able to argue these in the proper form in legal briefs.

There are many other procedural steps you must follow in an appeal that only a good appellate attorney will know. To attempt to do this yourself is not advisable.
Contact Health Law Attorneys With Experience Handling Licensing Issues.

If you have had a license suspended or revoked, or are facing imminent action against your license, it is imperative that you contact an experienced healthcare attorney to assist you in defending your career. Remember, your license is your livelihood, it is not recommended that you attempt to pursue these matters without the assistance of an attorney.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, dentists, nurses, medical groups, clinics, and other healthcare providers in personal and facility licensing issues.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.