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Brief suspension while mental evaluation was pending cannot be expunged from public records

A stipulated agreement that led to a very short suspension which was lifted after the licensee physician passed a mental examination cannot be expunged from the board's website, a California appellate court ruled June 23.

(Goodrich vs. Medical Board of California)

In 2013, the Medical Board of California moved to discipline physician Karen Goodrich for refusing to undergo a board-ordered medical examination. The board had been informed that, due to an apparent mental impairment and a similar refusal to submit to an evaluation, Goodrich had lost her medical privileges at a hospital where she worked.

Goodrich, who informed the board that she was having difficulty after a head injury and who showed signs of paranoia, eventually entered into a stipulated settlement in which she agreed to the suspension of her license pending an examination. Later that same month, Goodrich completed that evaluation and was declared safe to practice, causing the board to lift her suspension and drop the case.

In 2018, Goodrich filed a series of complaints seeking to mitigate the effects that the public existence of the agreement had on her career. The public record of the agreement, available on the board’s website, and its implication of mental illness had made acquiring insurance or employment impossible, she explained.

Unfortunately for Goodrich, a trial court held that the time for her to challenge the agreement was within 30 days of its March 2014 origin. As such, the deadline for appeal of that decision had long since passed. Goodrich then filed a second claim, seeking to force the board to post an explanatory statement accompanying her records stating she was safe to practice, and she sought the removal of the records of her mental health and the record of her discipline from the National Practitioners Databank.

Following the failure of her suits, Goodrich appealed, and the case went up to the California Court of Appeals for the First District, First Division.

On appeal, Goodrich argued that the agreement she had entered into with the board had been, for several reasons, illegitimate, but the Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that Goodrich’s stipulated agreement and short suspension was no longer subject to review. Regardless of the merits of Goodrich’s claims, they were no longer relevant.

Although Goodrich tried to get around the time bar by claiming that the board had fraudulently altered the agreement from the one that she had originally signed—specifically, by adding a statement that Goodrich was acknowledging and waiving her rights—the court held that such an allegation was insufficient to give cause for rescission of the agreement.

“The allegation that the Board added terms to the stipulated settlement after Goodrich signed it does not support the settlement’s rescission, because it does not call into question her consent at the time of signing or any other aspect of the validity of the contract she signed,” wrote Justice Jim Humes. “Rather, if

anything, this allegation supports a cause of action to reform the stipulated settlement to remove the terms she claims were fraudulently added.”

Regarding her demand that the board add a disclaimer to her record, the Court held that the language of the section of regulatory code provides the board with the discretion to include a disclaimer and did not mandate that the board take such an action.

Last, Goodrich argued that, because she passed her evaluation and the board declined to pursue her case further, the board, under the state’s regulatory code, was required to expunge the public records of her disciplinary process. Unfortunately, the trial court had dismissed this portion of her complaint on the grounds that she had not specified which records she wanted expunged, even when given a chance by that court to amend her complaint.

Although Goodrich now specified that she wanted information about herself on the board’s website to be removed, the justices dismissed the case, agreeing with the trial court, which had ruled that the information she wanted removed was required by law to be publicly posted.