Iowa Supreme Court Rules Disciplinary Information Regarding Doctor Should Not Have Been Publically Disclosed

The Supreme Court of Iowa (“Iowa Supreme Court”) held in its October 22, 2021 opinion: “the [Iowa Medical] Board concluded that Iowa Code section 272C.6(4)(a) allows it to publish statements of charges and press releases containing investigative information … Public disclosure is not allowed, other than in a “final written decision and finding of fact.””

Iowa Code section 272C.6(4)(a) (2018) provides that “investigative information” gathered in relation to a licensed professional’s disciplinary proceeding shall be “privileged and confidential, . . .not subject to discovery, subpoena, or other means of legal compulsion for their release to a person other than the licensee and the boards, their employees and agents involved in licensee discipline, and . . . not admissible in evidence in a judicial or administrative proceeding other than the proceeding involving licensee discipline.” It further provides that “investigative information in the possession of a licensing board or its employees or agents which relates to licensee discipline may be disclosed to appropriate licensing authorities within this state [or] the appropriate licensing authority in another state.” Additionally, it provides that “[i]f the investigative information in the possession of a licensing board or its employees or agents indicates a crime has been
committed, the information shall be reported to the proper law enforcement agency.” Lastly, it states, “However, a final written decision and finding of fact of a licensing board in a disciplinary proceeding . . . is a public record.”

Background Facts

In March 2013, the Board filed a statement of charges against Dr. Calcaterra accusing him of “a pattern of disruptive behavior and/or unethical or unprofessional conduct.” The Board’s statement of charges included factual allegations relating to a specific incident in November 2010 as well as allegations of prior unprofessional conduct. Around the same time, the Board sent out a press release to its email subscribers that contained much of the same information as its statement of charges. The Board published both the statement of charges against Dr. Calcaterra and the press release on its website. The Board has publicized its disciplinary actions in this way for several decades. Other licensing boards in Iowa follow a similar practice.

Approximately a year later, in April 2014, the Board’s disciplinary action against Dr. Calcaterra terminated when the parties reached a settlement. Under the settlement, Dr. Calcaterra accepted a citation and warning and agreed to pay a $5,000 civil penalty. The Board posted the settlement to its website. It also issued another press release that not only disclosed the settlement but also reiterated the factual allegations against Dr. Calcaterra, although those allegations had not been admitted to or even recited in the settlement.

Several years later, information about the allegations against Dr. Calcaterra remained available on the Board’s public website, and Dr. Calcaterra maintained that their presence was adversely impacting his medical career.

Regarding Iowa Code section 272C.6(4)(a), the Board indicated that the confidentiality protection therein “extends to the patient, not the physician.” In addition, the Board pointed out that its own administrative rules have long provided that statements of charges are public records. Iowa Admin. Code r. 653—24.2(8) (2018). The Board also observed that “[e]very other Iowa professional licensing board mandates by rule that their statements of charges are public.”

The Iowa Supreme Court stated: “The question of interpretation in this case—whether “privileged and confidential” as used in section 272C.6(4)(a) means that the Board cannot publicize investigative information—is not informed by the Board’s special expertise … section 272C.6(4)(a) is not unique to the Board; it applies to many different licensing boards. If we deferred to a single board’s interpretation we would be blind to the fact that the statute applies to many boards … the Board invites us to find an additional exception beyond the stated exceptions despite the categorical language of the general rule. In our view, the plain language of the statute does not permit us to take this step … the Board did not have interpretive discretion to determine what “information is, and is not, confidential” under Iowa Code section 272C.6(4) … the statute not only limits the public’s ability to compel disclosure by the Board, it also limits the Board’s ability to voluntarily disclose investigative information. Therefore, it makes no difference that the Board voluntarily posted information about its investigation of Dr. Calcaterra on its website.”

“As a general proposition, transparency in government is a good thing. In addition, members of the public may find value in getting access to whatever information a licensing agency has about a professional, including the contents of unverified complaints against him or her. But there are countervailing considerations. Individuals involved in an investigation need to be able to speak freely, and this is encouraged by confidentiality … In addition, a professional’s livelihood can be damaged by putting unproved allegations in public view on an official government website. Dr. Calcaterra claims this happened to him.”

“Our duty is to adhere to the plain meaning of the text. We do so here, and hold that investigative information cannot be released to the public in a statement of charges or a press release when there has been no underlying final decision in the disciplinary proceeding.”

Source Calcaterra v. Iowa Board of Medicine, No. 20–1429.

If you or a loved one may have been harmed as a result of medical malpractice in Iowa or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Iowa medical malpractice lawyer or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, November 20th, 2021 at 5:28 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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