Section 497.131, Florida Statutes 2001
497.131 Disciplinary proceedings.--
(1) The department shall cause to be investigated any complaint which is filed before it if the complaint is in writing, signed by the complainant, and legally sufficient. A complaint is legally sufficient if it contains ultimate facts which show that a violation of this chapter, or of any rule promulgated by the department or board has occurred. In order to determine legal sufficiency, the department may require supporting information or documentation. The department may investigate or continue to investigate, and the department and the board may take appropriate final action on, a complaint even though the original complainant withdraws it or otherwise indicates her or his desire not to cause the complaint to be investigated or prosecuted to completion. The department may investigate an anonymous complaint if the complaint is in writing and is legally sufficient, if the alleged violation of law or rules is substantial, and if the department has reason to believe, after preliminary inquiry, that the alleged violations in the complaint are true. The department may investigate a complaint made by a confidential informant if the complaint is legally sufficient, if the alleged violation of law or rule is substantial, and if the department has reason to believe, after preliminary inquiry, that the allegations of the complainant are true. The department may initiate an investigation if it has reasonable cause to believe that a person has violated a state statute, a rule of the department, or a rule of the board. When an investigation of any person is undertaken, the department shall promptly furnish to the person or her or his attorney a copy of the complaint or document which resulted in the initiation of the investigation. The person may submit a written response to the information contained in such complaint or document within 20 days after service to the person of the complaint or document. The person's written response shall be considered by the probable cause panel. This right to respond shall not prohibit the department from issuing a summary emergency order if necessary to protect the public. However, if the Comptroller or her or his designee and the chair of the board or the chair of its probable cause panel agree in writing that such notification would be detrimental to the investigation, the department may withhold notification. The department may conduct an investigation without notification to any person if the act under investigation is a criminal offense.
(2) The department shall expeditiously investigate complaints. When its investigation is complete and legally sufficient, the department shall prepare and submit to the probable cause panel of the board the investigative report of the department. The report shall contain the investigative findings and the recommendations of the department concerning the existence of probable cause. At any time after legal sufficiency is found, the department may dismiss any case, or any part thereof, if the department determines that there is insufficient evidence to support the prosecution of allegations contained therein. The department shall provide a detailed report to the probable cause panel prior to dismissal of any case or part thereof, and to the subject of the complaint after dismissal of any case or part thereof, under this section. The probable cause panel shall have access, upon request, to the investigative files pertaining to a case prior to dismissal of such case. If the department dismisses a case, the probable cause panel may retain independent legal counsel, employ investigators, and continue the investigation and prosecution of the case as it deems necessary.
(3) As an alternative to the provisions of subsections (1) and (2), when a complaint is received, the department may provide a licensee with a notice of noncompliance for an initial offense of a minor violation. The board shall establish by rule those minor violations under this provision that do not endanger the public health, safety, and welfare and which do not demonstrate a serious inability to practice the profession. Failure of a licensee to take action in correcting the violation within 15 days after notice may result in the institution of regular disciplinary proceedings.
(4) The determination as to whether probable cause exists shall be made by majority vote of the probable cause panel of the board. The board shall provide, by rule, that the determination of probable cause shall be made by a panel of its members or by the department. The board may provide, by rule, for multiple probable cause panels composed of at least two members. The board may provide, by rule, that one or more members of the panel or panels may be a former board member. The length of term or repetition of service of any such former board member on a probable cause panel may vary according to the direction of the board when authorized by board rule. Any probable cause panel must include one of the board's former or present consumer members, if one is available, willing to serve, and is authorized to do so by the board chair. Any probable cause panel must include a present board member. Any probable cause panel must include a former or present professional board member. However, any former professional board member serving on the probable cause panel must hold an active valid license for that profession. All probable cause proceedings conducted pursuant to the provisions of this section are exempt from the provisions of s. 286.011 and s. 24(b), Art. I of the State Constitution. The probable cause panel may make a reasonable request, and upon such request the department shall provide such additional investigative information as is necessary to the determination of probable cause. A request for additional investigative information shall be made within 15 days from the date of receipt by the probable cause panel of the investigative report of the department. The probable cause panel shall make its determination of probable cause within 30 days after receipt by it of the final investigative report of the department. The Comptroller may grant extensions of the 15-day and the 30-day time limits. If the probable cause panel does not find probable cause within the 30-day time limit, as may be extended, or if the probable cause panel finds no probable cause, the department may determine, within 10 days after the panel fails to determine probable cause or 10 days after the time limit has elapsed, that probable cause exists. If the probable cause panel finds that probable cause exists, it shall direct the department to file a formal complaint against the licensee. The department shall follow the directions of the probable cause panel regarding the filing of a formal complaint. If directed to do so, the department shall file a formal complaint against the subject of the investigation and prosecute that complaint pursuant to the provisions of chapter 120. However, the department may decide not to prosecute the complaint if it finds that probable cause had been improvidently found by the panel. In such cases, the department shall refer the matter to the board. The board may then file a formal complaint and prosecute the complaint pursuant to the provisions of chapter 120. The department shall also refer to the board any investigation or disciplinary proceeding not before the Division of Administrative Hearings pursuant to chapter 120 or otherwise completed by the department within 1 year after the filing of a complaint. A probable cause panel or the board may retain independent legal counsel, employ investigators, and continue the investigation as it deems necessary; all costs thereof shall be paid from the department's Regulatory Trust Fund. All proceedings of the probable cause panel shall be exempt from the provisions of s. 120.525.
(5) A formal hearing before an administrative law judge from the Division of Administrative Hearings of the Department of Management Services shall be held pursuant to chapter 120 if there are any disputed issues of material fact. The administrative law judge shall issue a recommended order pursuant to chapter 120. If any party raises an issue of disputed fact during an informal hearing, the hearing shall be terminated and a formal hearing pursuant to chapter 120 shall be held.
(6) The board, with those members of the panel who reviewed the investigation pursuant to subsection (4) being excused, shall determine and issue the final order in each disciplinary case. Such order shall constitute final agency action. Any consent order or agreed settlement shall be subject to the approval of the department.
(7) The department shall have standing to seek judicial review of any final order of the board, pursuant to s. 120.68.
(8) Any proceeding for the purpose of summary suspension of a license, or for the restriction of a license, of a licensee pursuant to s. 120.60(6) shall be conducted by the Comptroller or her or his designee, who shall issue the final summary order.
(9) The department shall periodically notify the person who filed the complaint of the status of the investigation, whether probable cause has been found, and the status of any civil action or administrative proceeding or appeal.
(10) Except as otherwise provided in this section, any complaints, investigative reports compiled by the department or board, and all records and information relating to an investigation conducted pursuant to the provisions of this section are confidential and exempt from the provisions of s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution until the investigation ceases to be active. For purposes of this section, an investigation is considered "active" while the investigation is being conducted by the department or board with a reasonable, good faith belief that it may lead to the filing of administrative, civil, or criminal proceedings. An investigation does not cease to be active if the department or board is proceeding with reasonable dispatch, and there is good faith belief that action may be initiated by the department, the board, or other administrative or law enforcement agency. The subject may file a written response to the information contained in the investigative file. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit the department from providing such information to any law enforcement agency or to any other regulatory agency.
(11) A privilege against civil liability is hereby granted to any complainant or any witness with regard to information furnished with respect to any investigation or proceeding pursuant to this chapter, unless the complainant or witness acted in bad faith or with malice in providing such information.
History.--s. 56, ch. 93-399; s. 1, ch. 95-385; s. 330, ch. 96-406; s. 234, ch. 96-410; s. 1145, ch. 97-103; s. 5, ch. 2000-195.