January/February 2011 The Delaware state psychology board acted reasonably in disciplining licensee Earl Walker, Jr., for failing to meet his continuing education requirements and falsely representing that he had met the requirements, the Superior Court in New Castle, Delaware, held February 3
(Earl E. Walker, Jr. v. Board of Examiners of Psychologists).
After catching a reporting discrepancy in continuing education hours during a random audit, the board held a hearing. Walker explained that he had been through a rough patch during the two years of the CE reporting period in question, and this caused him to make a 28.75-hour exaggeration in his reported continuing education credits. Walker blamed his divorce, custody issues, and financial problems resulting from his ex-wife’s bankruptcy.
These problems, claimed Walker, caused him to “not really [have] the time to sit down and be organized and pay closer attention” and were the reason he misread his credit hours, inflating them from 11.25 to 40.
The board placed Walker on probation for six months, requiring him to complete his credits and to be assessed by a psychologist to determine if his apparent disorganization would impair his work. Unhappy with this outcome, he filed an appeal with the Superior Court.
In his appeal, Walker argued, among other things, that the “penalty was unprecedented and excessive,” and that the board made “unfounded assertions of professional incompetence.” To reinforce his arguments, he introduced a chart which purported to show his penalty was an outlier in the range of punishments given to psychologists who committed similar infractions.
He also argued that, because the board had not filed a certified record of the its proceedings within a 20-day deadline, its decision was void for procedural failures. The board countered that the sanctions imposed on Walker were both well within its statutory range of discretion and reasonable given the level of disorganization shown by Walker’s failure to complete his continuing education requirements.
As for the filing deadline, the board argued that Walker’s own slow filing was the cause of the delay and that, in any case, Walker was not prejudiced by the delay, an argument the court accepted.
In the rest of its decision in favor of the board, the court stated that the primary question before it was whether the sanctions against Walker were supported by substantial evidence. The court first recounted the history of the board proceedings against Walker, citing the board’s effort to determine a proper sanction and Walker’s own admissions as to the cause of his failure to acquire and accurately report his continuing education credits.
“Here,” it said, “the effectively undisputed evidence of [Walker’s] failure to satisfy his continuing education requirements, taken together with his admitted personal difficulties, gave rise to the board’s concerns about [his] ability to satisfy the board’s requirements for unsupervised licensure; this issue is precisely the type of matter that is within the expertise and specialized competence of the board.”