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Ford v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 12, 2018

ROBIN FORD
v.
LOUISIANA STATE BOARD OF MEDICAL EXAMINERS, and CHRISTY L. VALENTINE, M.D., sued in her official capacity only

         SECTION A(2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JAY C. ZAINEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 8) filed by Defendants, Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (the “Board”) and Christy L. Valentine, M.D. (“Valentine”), in her official capacity (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Defendants”). Plaintiff, Dr. Robin Ford (“Ford”), opposes the motion (Rec. Doc. 12) and Defendants have replied. (Rec. Doc. 15). Defendants have also filed a Motion to Stay Discovery (Rec. Doc. 9). The motions, set for submission on July 25, 2018, are before the Court on the briefs without oral argument. Having considered the motions and memoranda of counsel, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 8) is DENIED and Defendants' Motion to Stay Discovery (Rec. Doc. 9) is DISMISSED AS MOOT for the reasons set forth below.

         I. Background

         In 1991, the Board licensed Dr. Ford to practice osteopathic medicine. (Rec. Doc. 1, Complaint ¶ 2). In 1994, the Board conducted an investigation and discovered that Dr. Ford wrote prescriptions primarily for controlled substances in the names of other individuals for her own personal consumption and that she suffered from related issues of substance abuse. (Rec. Doc. 8, Exhibit A). After the Board's investigation, Dr. Ford signed a 1995 Consent Order which suspended her license to practice medicine, placed Dr. Ford on probation with various restrictions, and provided an agreement to participate in a Physicians Health Program (“PHP”). (Rec. Doc. 1, Complaint ¶ 33-34). In the 1997 Superseding Consent Order, the Board continued the restrictions imposed on Dr. Ford, but reinstated her medical license. (Id. ¶ 37).

         In the following year, Dr. Ford struggled with diagnosed manic depressive (bipolar) disorder. (Id. ¶ 35). Dr. Ford and the Board then entered into a 1998 Superseding Consent Order to accommodate Dr. Ford and her bipolar disorder as she suffered from somatic complaints, confusion, agitation, and manic episodes. (Id. ¶ 31). For several years, Dr. Ford remained stable and her disorder was in remission. (Id. ¶ 39)

         In 2006, Dr. Ford relapsed with her substance abuse disorder and was diagnosed with opiate dependence. (Id.). Dr. Ford removed herself from the medical profession by allowing her license to expire while seeking treatment. (Id.). After treatment, Dr. Ford requested to renew her license and enter the re-admission process. The re-admission process required Dr. Ford to agree to and sign the 2011 Second Superseding Consent Order. (Id. ¶ 43-44). The 2011 Second Superseding Consent Order again included the consent to a monitoring contract provided by the PHP. (Id. ¶ 45). The PHP monitoring contract provided for a five year term. (Id. ¶ 50).

         Since 2010, Dr. Ford has not relapsed. (Id. ¶ 55). In 2014, the Board issued a Third Superseding Order modifying the Second Superseding Consent Order to allow Dr. Ford to prescribe Schedule IV and V controlled substances. (Rec. Doc. 8, Exhibit E). The PHP released Dr. Ford from her monitoring contract in January of 2017 and imposed a new, less burdensome Post-Monitoring Contract for nine months. (Id. ¶ 62). In April of 2017, Dr. Ford requested the Board to reinstate the previously revoked ability to prescribe Schedule II and Schedule III controlled substances. (Rec. Doc. 8, p. 5). Soon thereafter, Dr. Ford received the April 2017 Letter stating that her request was under advisement. (Id., Exhibit F). The letter also stated, “The Board believes that licensees currently practicing with diagnosed psychiatric conditions should continue monitoring with HPFL-PHP by signing a lifetime monitoring contract.” (Id.). The April 2017 Letter further indicated that Dr. Ford should contact Dr. Hammond at the PHP to discuss the monitoring requirements. (Id.). When Dr. Ford contacted Dr. Hammond, Dr. Hammond informed Dr. Ford that the PHP made a “mistake” releasing Dr. Ford from the monitoring contract. (Rec. Doc. 1, Complaint ¶ 72). Dr. Hammond further instructed Dr. Ford that if she didn't sign the New Monitoring Contract, then Dr. Hammond would report her to the Board and her license would be “taken away.” (Id.).

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides the vehicle by which a party can challenge a court's subject matter jurisdiction to hear a particular issue. In general, where subject matter jurisdiction is being challenged under Rule 12(b)(1), the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes to satisfy itself that it has power to hear the case. Montez v. Dep't of Navy, 392 F.3d 147, 149 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731 (1947)). No. presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff's allegations and the court can decide disputed issues of material fact in order to determine whether or not it has jurisdiction to hear the case. Id. However, where issues of fact are central both to subject matter jurisdiction and the claim on the merits, the trial court must assume jurisdiction and proceed to the merits of plaintiff's case under either Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56. Id. (citing Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1981)).

         Under well-settled standards governing Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, a claim may not be dismissed unless it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts that would entitle him to legal relief. In re Supreme Beef Processors, Inc., 468 F.3d 248, 251 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Benton v. United States, 960 F.2d 19 (5th Cir. 1992)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 239 (5th Cir. 2009). But the Court is not bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         A legally sufficient complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257. If there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculation level, or if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, the claim must be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. Law and Analysis

         Defendants bring the instant motion pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seeking to dismiss Dr. Ford's claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). First, Defendants argue that Dr. Ford's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) because abstention from exercising jurisdiction is warranted under the Younger abstention doctrine. Second, Defendants argue that Dr. Ford's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because her claims are barred by res judicata. Third, Defendants argue that Dr. Ford's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because she fails to state a claim under Title II of the ADA as a matter of law. Fourth, Defendants argue that Dr. Ford's relief against Defendants is barred in whole or in part under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.[1]

         A. Younger Abstention

         At its core, the Younger abstention doctrine was initially a federal court's relinquishment of jurisdiction when necessary not to interfere with a parallel, pending state criminal proceedings. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Younger abstention subsequently been expanded to apply in two additional scenarios. First, Younger has been expanded to encompass a federal court's relinquishment of jurisdiction when necessary not to interfere with particular state civil enforcement proceedings. Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69 (2013). Second, the Supreme Court also expanded Younger to require abstention from interfering with state civil proceedings that implicate a state's interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts. Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1 (1987). After a court has found that a case falls into one of these categories, the court potentially invoking Younger considers whether ...


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