One of the cases described by Kentucky board counsel Cheryl Lalonde was decided August 25, 2009 by the Court of Appeal of California, Third Appellate District. The ruling (Louis H. Watson v. The Superior Court of Sacramento County, Medical Board of California) involved a surgeon who had several DUI violations and a battery conviction. The California medical board sought to revoke his license.

“This was a really interesting case where you’ve got a law that allows you to take into consideration somebody’s sobriety if it impairs their professional practice, but there are no allegations about incompetence or negligence in his practice,” Lalonde said. In this instance, “the court said it was okay for the board to look at the potential for adverse impact.”

The surgeon, Louis Watson, had been stopped and arrested, and in some cases charged, for driving under the influence on four occasions between 2000 and 2005. He had also pled no contest to a charge of battery, and he had provided false information on applications for reappointment to hospital medical staffs or for professional liability insurance.

Following a hearing, the board revoked Watson’s license but stayed the revocation and placed him on probation for five years with 30 days’ actual suspension.

On appeal, Watson charged that the state law authorizing discipline for after-hours conduct was unconstitutional. The court rejected that argument, stating,  “Driving while under the influence of alcohol demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to obey legal prohibitions against such conduct and constitutes a serious breach of a duty owed to a society.”

Watson argued he did not have adequate advance notice of “how much alcohol consumption prior to driving, or which conduct involving suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, would give rise to disciplinary cause.” While convictions provide a “bright line” as to what conduct is prohibited, “there is no lower level of alcohol consumption.. that would not trigger the ability of the medical board to proceed.” The court found, however that the standard of “posing a danger to the physician or others” was adequate and no bright line was required.

“There was no doubt… that the physician’s driving after consuming alcoholic beverages posted a danger, given that crashes occurred in two of the four incidents,” the court added.

The court held that the board did not violate Watson’s right to due process. “Although there had to be a nexus between the use of alcoholic beverages and the fitness to practice medicine, such a nexus was established by the legislature… It did not require a finding of an actual, adverse impact on the past day-to-day practice of medicine, but could be satisfied by a potential for such adverse impact in the future.”

The state Supreme Court denied Watson’s petition for review of the decision on December 2, 2009.

© 2012 Professional Licensing Report, published by ProForum, a non-profit research group, www.plrnet.org. Reprinted by permission.

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