Defending Your Professional License from an Administrative Complaint

You worked hard to obtain your professional license. You also work hard to maintain your professional license. Whether it be a medical license, a nursing license, a real estate license or any of the other professional licenses issued by the Florida Department of Health or the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, these professional licenses allow you to practice your trade and earn a living.

However, if the agency or board in charge of your license has probable cause to believe your have violated a statute or rule governing your license, it can issue an administrative complaint and seek to take disciplinary action against you, including the revocation of your license.

It is important to have strong, experienced legal counsel representing you through the disciplinary process.

How Does the Process Work

The process starts when an agency or board receives a complaint about a licensed individual. These complaints can come from anyone, including your employer, law enforcement, or the general public. Once a complaint is received, the appropriate board will notify the licensed individual and begin its investigation. The complaint and any investigative materials will remain confidential during the investigation process.

The investigation is your first opportunity to address any allegations of wrongdoing. If you receive an investigation letter or a phone call from an investigator, you will be given the opportunity to explain, deny, or otherwise justify the allegations contained in the complaint. However, please note that, while this is not a criminal matter, anything you say can be used against you as the process proceeds.

After the investigation is concluded, the investigation team will present their findings to the appropriate probable cause panel who will make a determination as to whether probable cause exists to issue an administrative complaint. As this process is still confidential, you will not be informed about the result until after the panel has made its decision. If the panel finds that no probable cause exists, the matter will be closed, and the complaint and investigative materials will be kept confidential.

If the panel determines that probable cause does exist, an administrative complaint will be issued and served upon you, to your address of record, by certified mail. Once you receive an administrative complaint, time is of the essence. If you fail to timely respond within 21 days, your right to dispute the claims in the complaint may be waived.

In response to the complaint, you will have three options:

  1. Relinquish your license. Please note that, if you chose this option, it will be considered a disciplinary action and will affect your ability to obtain or renew any other professional licenses you may have in Florida and will likely have a negative affect on any professional licenses you may maintain in other states.
  2. Request an Informal Hearing. If you choose this option, you are admitting the material facts of the complaint and will be assigned an informal hearing officer who will hear your case and decide what, if any, punishment is proper. You should be very careful in choosing this option as you cannot deny the allegations in the complaint at the informal hearing.
  3. Request a Formal Administrative Hearing. This option is usually the best option to select, however you must do more than simply select the correct checkbox (e.g., you must identify the facts you believe are in dispute). If you select this option, your case will be forwarded to the Division of Administrative Hearings where an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will be assigned to your case. You will be given the opportunity to conduct discovery (e.g., request relevant documents and take depositions of potential witnesses) and you will be given an opportunity to defend against the allegations and present your case. Importantly, the board or department will bear the burden of proving the case by clear and convincing evidence – that means that the burden is not on you to prove you didn’t do what is alleged, but that the board must prove everything that it has alleged.

Regardless of which option you pick, a final order will eventually be issued. While the best outcome is that no action is taken against your license, the potential disciplinary actions can include the issuance of a letter of reprimand, imposition of fines and costs, the placing of restrictions upon the license, suspension of the license, or permanent revocation of the license.

Why Should I Retain an Experienced Professional Licensing Attorney

An experienced professional licensing attorney can help you through the entire disciplinary process. For example, if you receive an investigation notice, an experienced attorney can draft a legal response to the investigation. This has two benefits 1) it prevents you from accidentally revealing information to the investigator that may be harmful to your case, and 2) it helps the probable cause panel understand the factual and legal issues within the complaint. Prevailing at the probable cause panel keeps the complaint confidential and prevents the need to go through the formal administrative hearing process.

Further, if an administrative complaint is issued, the board or department will be represented by its own attorneys. Having an experienced attorney fighting for you levels the playing field and helps ensure that you are able to put on your best defense. Additionally, an experienced professional licensing attorney can negotiate a reasonable settlement of the complaint early in the process to avoid the costs and expenses of a full administrative hearing.

If you have been notified that you are being investigated related to your professional license or if you have received an administrative complaint related to your professional license, you can contact an experienced professional licensing attorney at Smith & Associates for a free consultation.