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In re Taylor

Supreme Court of Vermont

July 22, 2016

In re Stephanie H. Taylor, M.D.

         On Appeal from Medical Practice Board, Robert Hayward, Chair

          Edward G. Adrian of Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC, Burlington, for Appellant.

          William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, and Jacob A. Humbert, Assistant Attorney General, Montpelier, for Appellee.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund and Eaton, JJ., and Tomasi, Supr. J., Specially Assigned

          SKOGLUND, J.

         ¶ 1. Dr. Stephanie Taylor appeals from a decision of the Vermont Medical Practice Board denying her request to vacate the provisions of a 2005 consent order in which she agreed to a "final and irrevocable" surrender of her medical license. Dr. Taylor contends the Board erroneously: (1) failed to determine whether there were "less restrictive means available to regulate [her] conduct"; (2) violated her right to due process by "shift[ing] the burden onto [her] . . . to guess at the Board's requirements for reinstatement;" (3) relied on the specification of charges that led to the earlier consent order; and (4) considered a Massachusetts decision revoking her medical license in that state. We affirm.

         ¶ 2. This is the second appeal to reach the Court in this matter. See In re Taylor, 2015 VT 95, ___Vt. ___, 128 A.3d 422. In the first appeal, we recounted Dr. Taylor's "long and troubled" disciplinary history, which began in 1996 with a consent order in which she admitted to a "chemical addiction" that posed a threat to the safety of her patients, a "mental impairment" that affected her competence to practice, and a "disregard for the fundamental principles of doctor-patient boundaries." Id. ¶ 2. Dr. Taylor agreed at the time to an indefinite suspension of her license and numerous conditions for reinstatement, including a stipulation that she not return to the practice of psychiatry, address her substance abuse and mental health issues, and refrain from prescribing medications for family members. Id.

         ¶ 3. In June 2000, the Board agreed to amend the consent order to allow Dr. Taylor to pursue a family practice residency at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Dr. Taylor simultaneously entered into an agreement with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine limiting her practice to activities within the residency and otherwise placing her on indefinite suspension with numerous conditions for full reinstatement. Id. ¶ 3. After completing the residency, Dr. Taylor entered into a further consent order for a conditional license to practice medicine in Vermont subject to many of the earlier conditions. Id. ¶ 4. Not long thereafter, however, the Massachusetts medical board suspended Dr. Taylor's conditional license for failure to comply with drug testing, and the Vermont Board launched a new investigation, ultimately filing a complaint against Dr. Taylor alleging twenty-five counts of professional misconduct, including allegations that she materially breached provisions of the previous consent orders, improperly prescribed medications, violated professional boundaries, and failed to adhere to professional medical standards. Id. ¶ 5.

         ¶ 4. The new charges led to further stipulation and consent order in August 2005. While entering no admission to the charges, she agreed that the order was "an acceptable means of resolving the matter" and "in the interests of all parties." Id. ¶ 6. Under the order, Dr. Taylor agreed to surrender her medical license, and further agreed that the "surrender of her license shall be final and irrevocable" and that she would not seek relicensure or reinstatement. Id.

         ¶ 5. Notwithstanding her agreement, Dr. Taylor submitted separate applications for reinstatement to the Board in May 2013 and March 2014. The State, in response, acknowledged that the Board retained the authority to modify the 2005 consent order to remove the restrictive clauses as a precondition to an application for relicensure. Following additional briefing, the Board held an evidentiary hearing in July 2014, and shortly thereafter issued a brief, one-page written decision denying Dr. Taylor's request. Id. ¶ 13.

         ¶ 6. We reversed the decision on appeal and remanded to the Board for additional findings to explain the "basis of its ruling." Id. ¶ 17. In so holding, we expressed no opinion on the merits of the underlying decision, and left it to the Board to decide whether to "rely on the existing record, or reopen the hearing for further evidence." Id. ¶ 20. We also acknowledged that, in the interests of fairness, the State would be afforded the opportunity to relitigate the original charges, and the Board the discretion "to consider the nature and gravity of the original charges and the pattern of behavior over time that they may reveal." Id.

         ¶ 7. Following our remand, the State informed the Board and Dr. Taylor that it would not seek to reopen the charges or introduce new evidence, and confirmed that "the matter on remand is ready for decision on the existing record." The parties filed proposed findings and conclusions, and presented argument at a hearing before the Board in October 2015. The Board issued its decision the following month, again denying Dr. Taylor's request. The fourteen-page ruling contains extensive findings and conclusions, and ultimately holds that Dr. Taylor failed to adduce sufficient evidence of her rehabilitation to support a conclusion that the permanent surrender of her license was no longer necessary to protect the public and the integrity of the profession. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 8. Dr. Taylor first asserts that the Board erred in failing to determine whether there were "less restrictive means available to regulate [her] conduct" short of denying her request to vacate the irrevocable-surrender clause in the 2005 consent order and allow her to apply for reinstatement. She relies on language in 26 V.S.A. § 3101, which sets forth the general legislative "[p]olicy and purpose" for regulation of the professions in Vermont. In pertinent part, the statute provides:

It is the policy of the state of Vermont that regulation be imposed upon a profession or occupation solely for the purpose of protecting the public. The legislature believes that all individuals should be permitted to enter into a profession or occupation unless there is a demonstrated need for the state to protect the interests of the public by restricting entry into the profession or occupation. If such a need is identified, the form of ...

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