Receiving a complaint about your professionalism or the level of services can be surprising, upsetting, and completely unjustified. However, since complaints can lead to disciplinary action against your license, you must always take these complaints seriously. Enlisting the help of a veterinarian license defense lawyer can help you fight back against baseless complaints and protect the career you have worked to build.
The Complaint Process and Texas Veterinarians
The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is an entity made up of six practicing veterinarians and three members of the public whom the governor appoints. The TVBME investigates all complaints against licensed Texas veterinarians and handles any resulting disciplinary proceedings and complaints about unlicensed persons practicing veterinary medicine.
Once the TVBME receives a complaint, it takes the following steps:
- Acknowledges receipt of the complaint within ten days
- Notifies the subject of the complaint that a complaint has been filed
- Assigns an investigator to the complaint
- Gathers information concerning the complaint
- Notifies the complainant of the disposition of the case
If the investigation reveals no evidence to support a violation, the TVBME will take no further action and advise the complainant of its findings. However, if the TVBME determines that a violation of the Texas Veterinary Licensing Act or the Rules of Professional Conduct, or both, has occurred, then disciplinary action may follow.
Veterinarians who are the subject of a complaint have the opportunity to respond to the initial complaint within a certain number of days. This response is crucial as it can set the tone for the entire disciplinary proceeding and likely will influence the next steps that the TVBME chooses to take. The TVBME investigator also may request certain information from you or wish to visit your office. Having a lawyer to represent you during these early stages can be critical to the outcome of the complaint.
After an investigation is complete and the TVBME has found evidence of a violation, the case may be referred to an informal conference. While informal conferences are less formal than contested hearings, they still are not completely informal. The only informality about these conferences is that court procedures and evidence rules do not apply during these proceedings.
Under Tex. Admin. Code § 575.29, you will appear before a panel during informal conferences. In cases involving medical expertise, that panel will consist of two veterinarian TVBME members and one public TVBME member. In cases not involving medical expertise, that panel may consist of TVBME staff, as designated by the Executive Director.
You can present your side of the story and otherwise respond to the complaint before this panel during an informal conference. You also can submit evidence to support your case. The panel then meets confidentially before making a ruling. That ruling may consist of a recommended dismissal, agreed order, or other disciplinary actions.
Agreed Orders are settlement offers that the TVBME extends when they find evidence of a violation. The parties can negotiate Agreed Orders until reaching agreed-upon terms.
Once the parties reach an Agreed Order, it goes to the TVBME for approval. The TVBME can approve the Agreed Order, amend it, or reject it altogether. If approved, the TVBME signs the order, and goes into effect.
Contested Disciplinary Hearings
Under Tex. Admin. Code § 575.30, if you decline to sign an Agreed Order, fail to respond timely to a proposed Agreed Order, or the TVBME rejects an Agreed Order, TVBME staff may file for a contested hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). SOAH will assign an administrative law judge (ALJ) to the case, who will preside over the proceedings.
After discovery and other preliminary matters have occurred, the ALJ will conduct a contested hearing about whether you violated the Texas Veterinary Licensing Act or the Rules of Professional Conduct. The ALJ can admit documentary evidence and hear testimony from witnesses, much like a trial in a courtroom.
After the hearing, the ALJ will issue a proposal for decision (PFD) containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. The TVBME will rule on the merits of the case by either finding a violation has occurred and imposing disciplinary action or finding that no violation has occurred.
Common Reasons for Disciplinary Action Against Veterinarians
Veterinarians can face disciplinary proceedings and penalties for various violations of the Texas Veterinary Licensing Act and the Rules of Professional Conduct. However, some situations more commonly lead to disciplinary action than others.
Tex. Occ. Code § 801.402 details various reasons for disciplinary actions against veterinarians, which include:
- Chronic or habitual intoxication, chemical dependency, or addiction to drugs
- Engaging in dishonest or illegal practices in connection with the practice of veterinary medicine or equine dentistry
- Conviction of a felony
- Performing or prescribing unnecessary or unauthorized treatment
- Ordering prescription drugs or controlled substances to treat an animal without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship
- Practicing veterinary medicine without a license
These situations can lead to disciplinary action, which may include the refusal to renew a license, suspension or revocation of a license, placement on probation, issuance of a reprimand, or imposition of an administrative penalty.
Don’t Face a Disciplinary Complaint Without Legal Representation
A single complaint can endanger your license and ruin your reputation. After you have worked so hard to finish your education and build your career, this is not a risk that you can take lightly. As a result, having an experienced veterinarian license defense attorney can be essential to a positive outcome in your case. You can reach the offices of Bertolino LLP by calling (512) 515-9518 today or filling out our contact form online.