2020 Florida Statutes
455.225 Disciplinary proceedings.—Disciplinary proceedings for each board shall be within the jurisdiction of the department.
(1)(a) The department, for the boards under its jurisdiction, shall cause to be investigated any complaint that is filed before it if the complaint is in writing, signed by the complainant, and legally sufficient. A complaint is legally sufficient if it contains ultimate facts that show that a violation of this chapter, of any of the practice acts relating to the professions regulated by the department, or of any rule adopted by the department or a regulatory board in the department has occurred. In order to determine legal sufficiency, the department may require supporting information or documentation. The department may investigate, and the department or the appropriate board may take appropriate final action on, a complaint even though the original complainant withdraws it or otherwise indicates a desire not to cause the complaint to be investigated or prosecuted to completion. The department may investigate an anonymous complaint if the complaint is in writing and is legally sufficient, if the alleged violation of law or rules is substantial, and if the department has reason to believe, after preliminary inquiry, that the violations alleged in the complaint are true. The department may investigate a complaint made by a confidential informant if the complaint is legally sufficient, if the alleged violation of law or rule is substantial, and if the department has reason to believe, after preliminary inquiry, that the allegations of the complainant are true. The department may initiate an investigation if it has reasonable cause to believe that a licensee or a group of licensees has violated a Florida statute, a rule of the department, or a rule of a board.
(b) When an investigation of any subject is undertaken, the department shall promptly furnish to the subject or the subject’s attorney a copy of the complaint or document that resulted in the initiation of the investigation. The subject may submit a written response to the information contained in such complaint or document within 20 days after service to the subject of the complaint or document. The subject’s written response shall be considered by the probable cause panel. The right to respond does not prohibit the issuance of a summary emergency order if necessary to protect the public. However, if the secretary, or the secretary’s designee, and the chair of the respective board or the chair of its probable cause panel agree in writing that such notification would be detrimental to the investigation, the department may withhold notification. The department may conduct an investigation without notification to any subject if the act under investigation is a criminal offense.
(2) The department shall allocate sufficient and adequately trained staff to expeditiously and thoroughly determine legal sufficiency and investigate all legally sufficient complaints. When its investigation is complete and legally sufficient, the department shall prepare and submit to the probable cause panel of the appropriate regulatory board the investigative report of the department. The report shall contain the investigative findings and the recommendations of the department concerning the existence of probable cause. At any time after legal sufficiency is found, the department may dismiss any case, or any part thereof, if the department determines that there is insufficient evidence to support the prosecution of allegations contained therein. The department shall provide a detailed report to the appropriate probable cause panel prior to dismissal of any case or part thereof, and to the subject of the complaint after dismissal of any case or part thereof, under this section. For cases dismissed prior to a finding of probable cause, such report is confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1). The probable cause panel shall have access, upon request, to the investigative files pertaining to a case prior to dismissal of such case. If the department dismisses a case, the probable cause panel may retain independent legal counsel, employ investigators, and continue the investigation and prosecution of the case as it deems necessary.
(3)(a) As an alternative to the provisions of subsections (1) and (2), when a complaint is received, the department may provide a licensee with a notice of noncompliance for an initial offense of a minor violation. A violation is a minor violation if it does not demonstrate a serious inability to practice the profession, result in economic or physical harm to a person, or adversely affect the public health, safety, or welfare or create a significant threat of such harm. Each board, or the department if there is no board, shall establish by rule those violations which are minor violations under this provision. Failure of a licensee to take action in correcting the violation within 15 days after notice may result in the institution of regular disciplinary proceedings.
(b) The department may issue a notice of noncompliance for an initial offense of a minor violation, notwithstanding a board’s failure to designate a particular minor violation by rule as provided in paragraph (a).
(4) The determination as to whether probable cause exists shall be made by majority vote of a probable cause panel of the board, or by the department, as appropriate. Each regulatory board shall provide by rule that the determination of probable cause shall be made by a panel of its members or by the department. Each board may provide by rule for multiple probable cause panels composed of at least two members. Each board may provide by rule that one or more members of the panel or panels may be a former board member. The length of term or repetition of service of any such former board member on a probable cause panel may vary according to the direction of the board when authorized by board rule. Any probable cause panel must include one of the board’s former or present consumer members, if one is available, willing to serve, and is authorized to do so by the board chair. Any probable cause panel must include a present board member. Any probable cause panel must include a former or present professional board member. However, any former professional board member serving on the probable cause panel must hold an active valid license for that profession. All proceedings of the panel are exempt from s. 286.011 until 10 days after probable cause has been found to exist by the panel or until the subject of the investigation waives his or her privilege of confidentiality. The probable cause panel may make a reasonable request, and upon such request the department shall provide such additional investigative information as is necessary to the determination of probable cause. A request for additional investigative information shall be made within 15 days from the date of receipt by the probable cause panel of the investigative report of the department. The probable cause panel or the department, as may be appropriate, shall make its determination of probable cause within 30 days after receipt by it of the final investigative report of the department. The secretary may grant extensions of the 15-day and the 30-day time limits. In lieu of a finding of probable cause, the probable cause panel, or the department when there is no board, may issue a letter of guidance to the subject. If, within the 30-day time limit, as may be extended, the probable cause panel does not make a determination regarding the existence of probable cause or does not issue a letter of guidance in lieu of a finding of probable cause, the department, for disciplinary cases under its jurisdiction, must make a determination regarding the existence of probable cause within 10 days after the expiration of the time limit. If the probable cause panel finds that probable cause exists, it shall direct the department to file a formal complaint against the licensee. The department shall follow the directions of the probable cause panel regarding the filing of a formal complaint. If directed to do so, the department shall file a formal complaint against the subject of the investigation and prosecute that complaint pursuant to chapter 120. However, the department may decide not to prosecute the complaint if it finds that probable cause had been improvidently found by the panel. In such cases, the department shall refer the matter to the board. The board may then file a formal complaint and prosecute the complaint pursuant to chapter 120. The department shall also refer to the board any investigation or disciplinary proceeding not before the Division of Administrative Hearings pursuant to chapter 120 or otherwise completed by the department within 1 year after the filing of a complaint. The department, for disciplinary cases under its jurisdiction, must establish a uniform reporting system to quarterly refer to each board the status of any investigation or disciplinary proceeding that is not before the Division of Administrative Hearings or otherwise completed by the department within 1 year after the filing of the complaint. A probable cause panel or a board may retain independent legal counsel, employ investigators, and continue the investigation as it deems necessary; all costs thereof shall be paid from the Professional Regulation Trust Fund. All proceedings of the probable cause panel are exempt from s. 120.525.
(5) A formal hearing before an administrative law judge from the Division of Administrative Hearings shall be held pursuant to chapter 120 if there are any disputed issues of material fact. The administrative law judge shall issue a recommended order pursuant to chapter 120. If any party raises an issue of disputed fact during an informal hearing, the hearing shall be terminated and a formal hearing pursuant to chapter 120 shall be held.
(6) The appropriate board, with those members of the panel, if any, who reviewed the investigation pursuant to subsection (4) being excused, or the department when there is no board, shall determine and issue the final order in each disciplinary case. Such order shall constitute final agency action. Any consent order or agreed settlement shall be subject to the approval of the department.
(7) The department shall have standing to seek judicial review of any final order of the board, pursuant to s. 120.68.
(8) Any proceeding for the purpose of summary suspension of a license, or for the restriction of the license, of a licensee pursuant to s. 120.60(6) shall be conducted by the Secretary of Business and Professional Regulation or his or her designee, who shall issue the final summary order.
(9) The department shall periodically notify the person who filed the complaint of the status of the investigation, whether probable cause has been found, and the status of any civil action or administrative proceeding or appeal.
(10) The complaint and all information obtained pursuant to the investigation by the department are confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1) until 10 days after probable cause has been found to exist by the probable cause panel or by the department, or until the regulated professional or subject of the investigation waives his or her privilege of confidentiality, whichever occurs first. However, this exemption does not apply to actions against unlicensed persons pursuant to s. 455.228 or the applicable practice act. Upon completion of the investigation and pursuant to a written request by the subject, the department shall provide the subject an opportunity to inspect the investigative file or, at the subject’s expense, forward to the subject a copy of the investigative file. The subject may file a written response to the information contained in the investigative file. Such response must be filed within 20 days, unless an extension of time has been granted by the department. This subsection does not prohibit the department from providing such information to any law enforcement agency or to any other regulatory agency.
(11) A privilege against civil liability is hereby granted to any complainant or any witness with regard to information furnished with respect to any investigation or proceeding pursuant to this section, unless the complainant or witness acted in bad faith or with malice in providing such information.
History.—s. 1, ch. 74-57; s. 5, ch. 79-36; s. 289, ch. 81-259; s. 33, ch. 81-302; s. 12, ch. 83-329; s. 8, ch. 84-203; s. 3, ch. 85-311; s. 5, ch. 86-90; s. 8, ch. 88-1; s. 5, ch. 88-277; s. 1, ch. 88-279; s. 3, ch. 89-162; s. 1, ch. 90-44; s. 5, ch. 90-228; s. 7, ch. 91-137; s. 2, ch. 91-140; s. 54, ch. 92-33; s. 21, ch. 92-149; s. 132, ch. 92-279; s. 55, ch. 92-326; s. 23, ch. 93-129; s. 314, ch. 94-119; s. 79, ch. 94-218; s. 305, ch. 96-406; s. 211, ch. 96-410; s. 1082, ch. 97-103; s. 2, ch. 97-209; s. 3, ch. 97-228; s. 142, ch. 97-237; s. 21, ch. 97-261; s. 4, ch. 97-264; s. 18, ch. 97-273; s. 4, ch. 98-166; s. 31, ch. 2000-160.
Note.—Former s. 455.013.