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Reckless driving, DUIs not just “traffic violations” when renewing license

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee, in an October 6 ruling, affirmed a trial court’s decision to place a physician’s license on probation for five years for failing to disclose a reckless driving conviction on his medical renewal license application (Stubblefield v. Tennessee Department of Health).

Steven B. Stubblefield has been licensed as a board-certified cardiologist in the state of Tennessee since 1980. On June 30, 2008, Stubblefield pled guilty to reckless driving. In 2009, Stubblefield pled guilty to driving under the influence two more times. Stubblefield failed to report these instances to the Board and on October 13, 2011, the Division of Health Related Boards of the Tennessee Department of Health filed a Notice of Charges against Stubblefield.

The Department of Health presented evidence of Stubblefield’s license renewal applications, in 2009 and 2011, respectively, and noted that on the part of the forms where it asks the applicant if they had been convicted of a crime, Stubblefield did not circle “YES” on either application.

Stubblefield admitted that he did not circle “YES” on either of his applications, claiming that he “thought it was a traffic violation.”

The Board imposed a probation of five years of Stubblefield’s license, which Stubblefield appealed, seeking to demonstrate to the trial court that other physicians who had committed much more egregious offenses were reprimanded less severely. The trial court rejected Stubblefield’s claim that the penalty was disproportionate. The trial court also rejected his contention that the board’s sanction were imposed in violation of proper procedure and that the board lacked enough evidence to satisfy the burden of proof.

Affirming the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee asserted that “a sanction an agency imposes on an individual is not rendered invalid merely because it is more severe than that which was imposed in another case.”

Bennett also rejected Stubblefield’s claim that the board violated investigative procedure or failed to present ample amount of evidence to warrant a five-year probationary sentence of his medical license. “Dr. Stubblefield has not shown that a reasonable person would necessarily have reached a different conclusion than the Board based on the evidence presented at the contested case hearing,” the judge wrote.

Even if Stubblefield’s objections to the improper introduction of evidence had merit, the court added, Stubblefield’s attorney failed to object at the appropriate time—thus waiving the issue for appellate review.