Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Sulla v. Board of Registered Nursing (Cal. Ct. App. - May 5, 2012)

I agree with Justice Needham that it's not this case.  As to this case, I'd probably sign onto what Justice Needham has to say.  Though I'd probably be somewhat less strident and more openly cogizant of the deficiencies -- and potential irrationality -- of the underlying disciplinary regime.

So in this case what happens here seems okay.  The nurse (Anuncio Sulla) gets put on three years of probation, with revocation of his license stayed, for having hitting a median while DUI.  It sounds like Mr. Sulla is a wonderful nurse with no real alcohol problem, but nonetheless made a bad decision.  He should pay for that decision, and he's doing so.  Three years of probation on his nursing license.  Which matches the three years of probation he got for pleading guilty to the DUI.  Makes sense.  You want to both deter such misconduct as well as keep an eye on the offender to make sure there aren't other problems.

But while the present case might have turned out fine, I think that Mr. Sulla's counsel does make some very good points about the underlying disciplinary regime itself.  For example, a nurse can have his license taken away for any criminal misconduct involving alcohol even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with his abilities or performance on the job; e.g., you can lose your ability to ply your occupation forever if you have an open wine bottle in your car.  That doesn't seem right.  Similarly, nurses can lose their license on the very first such offense, but doctors can only lose their license on their second offense.  That seems flatly wrong.  Justice Needham says that doctors and nurses may not be similarly situated, and I somewhat agree, but not in the same direction:  it seems like we have a much greater concern when doctors might have an alcohol problem, so the harsher penalties for nurses does indeed present real problems for me.  So I think the equal protection concerns, despite the fact that (as Justice Needham holds) they're not really presented here, are real, as well as worthy of profound consideration in an appropriate case.

But here, what the ALJ did was an appropriate resolution.  So I'm on board.