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Stubblefield v. Tennessee Department of Health

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 6, 2014


Session July 18, 2014

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 120408III Ellen H. Lyle, Chancellor

John P. Konvalinka, J. Scott McDearman, and Katherine H. Lentz, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Steven B. Stubblefield.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter, and Sara E. Sedgwick, Senior Counsel, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Health.

Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Richard H. Dinkins, and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.



I. Factual and Procedural Background

This appeal arises out of disciplinary proceedings against a physician before the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners (the "Board").[1] Steven B. Stubblefield is a board-certified cardiologist who has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980.

On October 13, 2011, the Division of Health Related Boards of the Tennessee Department of Health (the "Division") filed a Notice of Charges (the "Notice") against Dr. Stubblefield alleging that he was arrested and pled guilty to reckless driving on June 30, 2008, and that he was arrested and pled guilty to driving under the influence on two different occasions in 2009. The Division asserted that Dr. Stubblefield failed to report these criminal convictions to the Board on his 2009 or 2011 medical license renewal applications, and this failure constituted grounds for discipline pursuant to the Tennessee Medical Practice Act, codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 63-6-101 et seq. The Notice alleged that Dr. Stubblefield had violated Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 63-6-214(b)(1) and (3)[2] as well as Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0880-2-.14(8).[3]

The Board conducted a hearing on January 25, 2012, over which an administrative law judge ("ALJ") presided. The Board's administrative director, the administrator for the Tennessee Medical Foundation ("TMF"), and Dr. Stubblefield testified. The Division introduced two exhibits during the hearing. The first exhibit ("Exhibit 1") contained copies of Dr. Stubblefield's renewal applications for his medical license dated March 6, 2009, and March 18, 2011. Each application required Dr. Stubblefield to indicate whether he had been convicted of a crime of which he had not previously notified the Board. Dr. Stubblefield did not circle "YES" on either application. By not circling "YES, " Dr. Stubblefield represented that he had not been convicted of a crime that he had not informed the Board of in writing. Dr. Stubblefield signed each application, certifying that the statements given in the applications were true and correct. The Board's administrative director testified that she maintained a database of licensure information for medical doctors in Tennessee and that Dr. Stubblefield's licensure file did not contain a letter from Dr. Stubblefield notifying the Board that he was convicted of reckless driving on June 30, 2008.

The second exhibit the Division introduced into evidence ("Exhibit 2") was a copy of a judgment from the Criminal Court of Hamilton County dated June 30, 2008. This judgment indicated that Dr. Stubblefield pled guilty to a charge of reckless driving, which the judgment identified as a misdemeanor. Dr. Stubblefield was sentenced to six months in the workhouse, but he was given an alternative sentence of probation for six months, beginning June 30, 2008. The judgment specified the following special conditions: six months of SCRAM;[4] no alcohol; no BAC[5] refusal; three public work days; $500 fine; and DUI[6] school.

Dr. Stubblefield began questioning the administrator for TMF for the purpose of providing information about Dr. Stubblefield's relationship with TMF. The Division objected to the administrator's testimony on the basis of relevance, and this witness was excused. Once the TMF administrator was excused, Dr. Stubblefield rested his case.

Dr. Stubblefield then moved for a directed verdict. The ALJ granted the motion with respect to two of the three counts in the Notice.[7] The reckless driving count was not dismissed.

The ALJ then asked for any further statements by either of the parties, and the Division stated that it would like to call Dr. Stubblefield as a rebuttal witness. Counsel for Dr. Stubblefield did not object to putting his client on the stand as a rebuttal witness. Dr. Stubblefield's attorney objected to certain questions, but he did not object to the testimony overall. As a result, Dr. Stubblefield answered questions about Exhibits 1 and 2.

When asked whether he circled "YES" on his 2009 or 2011 renewal applications, Dr. Stubblefield responded as follows:

No, I did not. I thought that it was a traffic violation and did not realize that it would be considered as a criminal offense.
Dr. Stubblefield's attorney then asked Dr. Stubblefield to clarify his testimony:
Q: Did you do anything intentionally, willfully to not disclose [the reckless driving conviction]?
A: No, sir.

Dr. Stubblefield testified that he thought he appeared in sessions court rather than in criminal court to plead guilty to the reckless driving charge. Dr. Stubblefield acknowledged that, as part of his sentence for reckless driving, he was required to pick up trash for three days, he was required to attend DUI school, and he submitted to wearing a continuous monitoring device for alcohol around his ankle for six months to prove he was not drinking.

The Board issued a ruling dated February 6, 2012. The Board made the following findings of fact:

1. Respondent has been at all times pertinent hereto licensed by the Board as a medical doctor in the State of Tennessee . . . .
2. Respondent was arrested and pled guilty to reckless driving in Hamilton County, Tennessee on June 30, 2008.
3. Respondent did not report his conviction to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners on his 2009 renewal application.
4. Respondent entered treatment for alcohol abuse in February 2010.
5. After completing treatment, Respondent signed a five year contract with the Tennessee Medical Foundation (TMF) on April 28, 2010.
6. Respondent maintains TMF advocacy.

The Board set forth the following conclusions of law:

The facts as found in the Findings of Fact are sufficient to establish that the Respondent has violated the following statutes or rules which are part of the Medical Examiners Practice Act, (Tenn. Code Ann. § 63-6-101, et seq.) for which disciplinary ...

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