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Unexpected charges at hearing lead to discipline remand

Chiropractic board members made sanction decisions based on new allegations not made until the middle of a discipline hearing, and the board's discipline decision would have to be invalidated as a result, a Florida court ruled August 30

(Carlos M. Gonzalez v. Florida Department of Health).

The Florida Department of Health had filed complaints against chiropractor Carlos Gonzalez, alleging that he kept illegible patient records and had failed to provide copies of records patients had requested.

Gonzalez admitted fault, but requested an informal hearing with the state’s chiropractic board to explain his actions. Unfortunately, during the hearing, the dialogue between Gonzalez and the board members made his situation worse. Aside from noting his poor record-keeping, the board also questioned his competence, as well as the procedures he used in his practice. In the end, Gonzalez’ license was placed on probation, and he was required to use a monitor and pass an examination—conditions that indicated the board was concerned about Gonzalez’ competency. He was also assessed fines and legal fees of about $5,000.

He appealed the decision, arguing that the board had acted improperly when it considered his professional competency during the hearing, as that had not been part of the complaint issued against him and he was not prepared to defend himself on the issue. The case went before a state District Court in Tallahassee, which issued an opinion written by Judge James Wolf.

Judge Wolf agreed with Gonzalez. Noting that the board had strayed from the topic of Gonzalez’ record-keeping, Wolf noted that a “portion of the discipline imposed appears directly related to competency rather than the record-keeping offenses that were charged.” By doing so, the board had erred and, because the error appeared to have led to additional discipline, the court returned the case to the board for a new hearing.