California Administrative Law Lawyer

Issue: Clarity of wording in official orders

A federal court in Colorado issued a decision March 17 allowing a suit brought by a nurse against the state’s nursing board to continue on the grounds that the stipulation order she signed was confusingly titled. The court said this fact raised the possibility that she signed the document under duress and that the board had violated her constitutional right to due process (Tavernier v. Colorado State Board of Nursing).

Carol Tavernier, the nurse at the center of the case, was employed at a hospice center in Colorado Springs. As a result of her heavy caseload, she claims, she was frequently behind on keeping up patient charts. After a 2013 audit uncovered several deficiencies in Tavernier’s chart work, the hospice fired her and filed a complaint with Colorado’s nursing board.

As a result of the complaint, the board ordered Tavernier to undergo mental and neuropsychological testing, and she was eventually diagnosed with “Other Specified Neurodevelopmental Disorder.”

The board then moved to discipline Tavernier on the grounds that she had a disability that would prevent her from practicing safely and it proposed a stipulation agreement under which she would be placed on a two-year probation restricting her areas of practice and be subject to a practice monitor.

Tavernier, apparently under the mistaken impression that the board had already made a final decision in her case and that she had no option to keep her license except to agree to the proposed stipulation, signed the document and returned it to the board, which then posted the discipline—including a statement that Tavernier suffered from a mental disability—on its website.

Tavernier later testified that she disagreed with the allegation that she suffered from a disability and did not understand that she would be agreeing to that assessment by signing the stipulation.

© 2018 Professional Licensing Report, published by ProForum, a non-profit research group, www.plrnet.org. Reprinted by permission.

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