456.073 Disciplinary proceedings.—Disciplinary proceedings for each board shall be within the jurisdiction of the department.
(1) The department, for the boards under its jurisdiction, shall cause to be investigated any complaint that is filed before it if the complaint is in writing, signed by the complainant, and legally sufficient. A complaint filed by a state prisoner against a health care practitioner employed by or otherwise providing health care services within a facility of the Department of Corrections is not legally sufficient unless there is a showing that the prisoner complainant has exhausted all available administrative remedies within the state correctional system before filing the complaint. However, if the Department of Health determines after a preliminary inquiry of a state prisoner’s complaint that the practitioner may present a serious threat to the health and safety of any individual who is not a state prisoner, the Department of Health may determine legal sufficiency and proceed with discipline. The Department of Health shall be notified within 15 days after the Department of Corrections disciplines or allows a health care practitioner to resign for an offense related to the practice of his or her profession. A complaint is legally sufficient if it contains ultimate facts that show that a violation of this chapter, of any of the practice acts relating to the professions regulated by the department, or of any rule adopted by the department or a regulatory board in the department has occurred. In order to determine legal sufficiency, the department may require supporting information or documentation. The department may investigate, and the department or the appropriate board may take appropriate final action on, a complaint even though the original complainant withdraws it or otherwise indicates a 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 violations alleged 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 licensee or a group of licensees has violated a Florida statute, a rule of the department, or a rule of a board. Notwithstanding subsection (13), the department may investigate information filed pursuant to s. 456.041(4) relating to liability actions with respect to practitioners licensed under chapter 458 or chapter 459 which have been reported under s. 456.049 or s. 627.912 within the previous 6 years for any paid claim that exceeds $50,000. Except as provided in ss. 458.331(9), 459.015(9), 460.413(5), and 461.013(6), when an investigation of any subject is undertaken, the department shall promptly furnish to the subject or the subject’s attorney a copy of the complaint or document that resulted in the initiation of the investigation. The subject may submit a written response to the information contained in such complaint or document within 20 days after service to the subject of the complaint or document. The subject’s written response shall be considered by the probable cause panel. The right to respond does not prohibit the issuance of a summary emergency order if necessary to protect the public. However, if the State Surgeon General, or the State Surgeon General’s designee, and the chair of the respective 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 subject if the act under investigation is a criminal offense.
(2) The department shall allocate sufficient and adequately trained staff to expeditiously and thoroughly determine legal sufficiency and investigate all legally sufficient complaints. For purposes of this section, it is the intent of the Legislature that the term “expeditiously” means that the department complete the report of its initial investigative findings and recommendations concerning the existence of probable cause within 6 months after its receipt of the complaint. The failure of the department, for disciplinary cases under its jurisdiction, to comply with the time limits of this section while investigating a complaint against a licensee constitutes harmless error in any subsequent disciplinary action unless a court finds that either the fairness of the proceeding or the correctness of the action may have been impaired by a material error in procedure or a failure to follow prescribed procedure. When its investigation is complete and legally sufficient, the department shall prepare and submit to the probable cause panel of the appropriate regulatory 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. The department shall not recommend a letter of guidance in lieu of finding probable cause if the subject has already been issued a letter of guidance for a related offense. 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 appropriate 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. For cases dismissed prior to a finding of probable cause, such report is confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1). 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. Each board, or the department if there is no board, shall establish by rule those minor violations under this provision which 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 a probable cause panel of the board, or by the department, as appropriate. Each regulatory board shall provide by rule that the determination of probable cause shall be made by a panel of its members or by the department. Each board may provide by rule for multiple probable cause panels composed of at least two members. Each 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, is 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 proceedings of the panel are exempt from s. 286.011 until 10 days after probable cause has been found to exist by the panel or until the subject of the investigation waives his or her privilege of confidentiality. 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 or the agency. The probable cause panel or the department, as may be appropriate, shall make its determination of probable cause within 30 days after receipt by it of the final investigative report of the department. The State Surgeon General may grant extensions of the 15-day and the 30-day time limits. In lieu of a finding of probable cause, the probable cause panel, or the department if there is no board, may issue a letter of guidance to the subject. If, within the 30-day time limit, as may be extended, the probable cause panel does not make a determination regarding the existence of probable cause or does not issue a letter of guidance in lieu of a finding of probable cause, the department must make a determination regarding the existence of probable cause within 10 days after the expiration of the time limit. 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 chapter 120. However, the department may decide not to prosecute the complaint if it finds that probable cause has 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 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. The department, for disciplinary cases under its jurisdiction, must establish a uniform reporting system to quarterly refer to each board the status of any investigation or disciplinary proceeding that is not before the Division of Administrative Hearings or otherwise completed by the department within 1 year after the filing of the complaint. Annually, the department, in consultation with the applicable probable cause panel, must establish a plan to expedite or otherwise close any investigation or disciplinary proceeding that is not before the Division of Administrative Hearings or otherwise completed by the department within 1 year after the filing of the complaint. A probable cause panel or a board may retain independent legal counsel, employ investigators, and continue the investigation as it deems necessary; all costs thereof shall be paid from a trust fund used by the department to implement this chapter. All proceedings of the probable cause panel are exempt from s. 120.525.
(5) A formal hearing before an administrative law judge from the Division of Administrative Hearings shall be held pursuant to chapter 120 if there are any disputed issues of material fact. The determination of whether or not a licensee has violated the laws and rules regulating the profession, including a determination of the reasonable standard of care, is a conclusion of law to be determined by the board, or department when there is no board, and is not a finding of fact to be determined by an administrative law judge. The administrative law judge shall issue a recommended order pursuant to chapter 120. Notwithstanding s. 120.569(2), the department shall notify the division within 45 days after receipt of a petition or request for a formal hearing.
(6) The appropriate board, with those members of the panel, if any, who reviewed the investigation pursuant to subsection (4) being excused, or the department when there is no board, shall determine and issue the final order in each disciplinary case. Such order shall constitute final agency action. Any consent order or agreed-upon 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 the license, of a licensee pursuant to s. 120.60(6) shall be conducted by the State Surgeon General or his or her designee, as appropriate, who shall issue the final summary order.
(9)(a) The department shall periodically notify the person who filed the complaint, as well as the patient or the patient’s legal representative, of the status of the investigation, indicating whether probable cause has been found and the status of any civil action or administrative proceeding or appeal.
(b) In any disciplinary case for which probable cause has been found, the department shall provide to the person who filed the complaint a copy of the administrative complaint and:
1. A written explanation of how an administrative complaint is resolved by the disciplinary process.
2. A written explanation of how and when the person may participate in the disciplinary process.
3. A written notice of any hearing before the Division of Administrative Hearings or the regulatory board at which final agency action may be taken.
(c) In any disciplinary case for which probable cause is not found, the department shall so inform the person who filed the complaint and notify that person that he or she may, within 60 days, provide any additional information to the department which may be relevant to the decision. To facilitate the provision of additional information, the person who filed the complaint may receive, upon request, a copy of the department’s expert report that supported the recommendation for closure, if such a report was relied upon by the department. In no way does this require the department to procure an expert opinion or report if none was used. Additionally, the identity of the expert shall remain confidential. In any administrative proceeding under s. 120.57, the person who filed the disciplinary complaint shall have the right to present oral or written communication relating to the alleged disciplinary violations or to the appropriate penalty.
(10) The complaint and all information obtained pursuant to the investigation by the department are confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1) until 10 days after probable cause has been found to exist by the probable cause panel or by the department, or until the regulated professional or subject of the investigation waives his or her privilege of confidentiality, whichever occurs first. Upon completion of the investigation and a recommendation by the department to find probable cause, and pursuant to a written request by the subject or the subject’s attorney, the department shall provide the subject an opportunity to inspect the investigative file or, at the subject’s expense, forward to the subject a copy of the investigative file. Notwithstanding s. 456.057, the subject may inspect or receive a copy of any expert witness report or patient record connected with the investigation if the subject agrees in writing to maintain the confidentiality of any information received under this subsection until 10 days after probable cause is found and to maintain the confidentiality of patient records pursuant to s. 456.057. The subject may file a written response to the information contained in the investigative file. Such response must be filed within 20 days of mailing by the department, unless an extension of time has been granted by the department. This subsection does not 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 section, unless the complainant or witness acted in bad faith or with malice in providing such information.
(12)(a) No person who reports in any capacity, whether or not required by law, information to the department with regard to the incompetence, impairment, or unprofessional conduct of any health care provider licensed under chapter 458, chapter 459, chapter 460, chapter 461, chapter 462, chapter 463, chapter 464, chapter 465, or chapter 466 shall be held liable in any civil action for reporting against such health care provider if such person acts without intentional fraud or malice.
(b) No facility licensed under chapter 395, health maintenance organization certificated under part I of chapter 641, physician licensed under chapter 458, or osteopathic physician licensed under chapter 459 shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee or staff member by reason of such employee’s or staff member’s report to the department about a physician licensed under chapter 458, chapter 459, chapter 460, chapter 461, or chapter 466 who may be guilty of incompetence, impairment, or unprofessional conduct so long as such report is given without intentional fraud or malice.
(c) In any civil suit brought outside the protections of paragraphs (a) and (b) in which intentional fraud or malice is alleged, the person alleging intentional fraud or malice shall be liable for all court costs and for the other party’s reasonable attorney’s fees if intentional fraud or malice is not proved.
(13) Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, an administrative complaint against a licensee shall be filed within 6 years after the time of the incident or occurrence giving rise to the complaint against the licensee. If such incident or occurrence involved criminal actions, diversion of controlled substances, sexual misconduct, or impairment by the licensee, this subsection does not apply to bar initiation of an investigation or filing of an administrative complaint beyond the 6-year timeframe. In those cases covered by this subsection in which it can be shown that fraud, concealment, or intentional misrepresentation of fact prevented the discovery of the violation of law, the period of limitations is extended forward, but in no event to exceed 12 years after the time of the incident or occurrence.
History.—s. 68, ch. 97-261; s. 23, ch. 99-7; s. 114, ch. 2000-153; s. 91, ch. 2000-160; ss. 14, 72, ch. 2001-277; s. 5, ch. 2002-254; s. 1, ch. 2003-27; s. 20, ch. 2003-416; s. 65, ch. 2008-6.