News Stream

Alabama: Lower court improperly limited its review of board decision

A dentist disciplined for being a habitual drug user was entitled to considerable discovery in a suit to overturn the board's decision, the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama ruled April 17. The court found that a state circuit court improperly limited its review of a dental board disciplinary action (W.A.A. v. Board of Dental Examiners).

In October 2012, the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners brought charges against the dentist, whom court filings do not identify by name, accusing him of impairment due to drug addiction and illegal prescribing.

After a hearing, the board fined the dentist $30,000 and suspended his license until he paid the fines and entered into a monitoring agreement with the board.

The dentist simultaneously appealed the board’s decision and brought a civil action against the board challenging the decision as improper.
During this time, W.A.A. filed several discovery requests, seeking documents related to his discipline. The board fought these requests, claiming various exemptions to disclosure of the documents.

W.A.A.’s discovery request sought “the identity of any persons present and/or the nature, content and procedure of the Board’s deliberations on the charges,” as well as any documents, recordings, emails, fax-transmittals, letters, correspondences, and/or other extraneous evidence not contained within the administrative record that mention the dentist or matters related to the charges.

A trial court quashed the discovery requests and affirmed the board’s discipline, holding that it was limited to deciding only whether the board had substantial evidence to support its decision, and whether that decision was reasonable based on that evidence.

The dentist appealed again, arguing that the trial court had improperly limited its scope of review and had improperly denied his discovery requests, and the case went to the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama.

The appellate court agreed with the disciplined dentist. State law does not limit the scope of the circuit’s court review to the question of whether the board had substantial evidence to support its decision, wrote Judge Craig Pittman, and a licensee challenging board discipline has the right to conduct discovery as to whether the board’s decision was unlawful or arbitrary.

The appellate court remanded the case to the lower to determine whether the evidence sought by the dentist could be obtained in a discovery proceeding.