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Behavioral Health and Human Servs. Licensing Bd. v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 18, 2014

BEHAVIORAL HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES LICENSING BOARD, KIMBLE L. RICHARDSON, GEORGE BRENNER, ANDREW HARNER, GENEVA OSAWE, REX STOCKTON, CARLA GAFF-CLARK, and THE STATE OF INDIANA, Appellants-Respondents,
v.
ELAINE WILLIAMS, Appellee-Petitioner

As Corrected April 16, 2014.

APPEAL FROM THE MADISON CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable Dennis D. Carroll, Judge. Cause No. 48C06-1203-PL-36.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, Attorney General of Indiana, KYLE HUNTER, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: DAVID F. MCNAMAR, McNamar & Associates, P.C., Indianapolis, Indiana.

SHARPNACK, Senior Judge. VAIDIK, C.J., and BAILEY, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 453

SHARPNACK, Senior Judge

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

The Behavioral Health and Human Services Licensing Board (" Board" ) revoked a mental health counselor's license when she developed a personal attachment to a patient, continued to see the patient after their professional relationship had ended, and ignored the patient's requests to leave her alone. Upon judicial review, the trial court found substantial evidence supporting the Board's findings and affirmed the revocation. On the licensee's motion to correct error, however, the court changed course. This time, it faulted the manner in which the Board conducted its proceedings, disapproved of the lack of a standard for disciplining licensees, and thus reversed and remanded with instructions to

Page 454

either impose a lesser sanction or hold a new hearing.

We conclude the Board afforded the licensee fair proceedings and acted within its authority in imposing the sanction of revocation. Further concluding the trial court impermissibly reweighed the credibility of the witnesses and substituted its judgment for that of the Board, we affirm the revocation.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

Elaine Williams was licensed in Indiana as a mental health counselor in 1999. In 2009, her former employer filed a consumer complaint with the Office of the Attorney General (" OAG" ) regarding Williams's relationship with Patient A, and in 2011, the OAG filed a petition for emergency suspension. The Board held a hearing on the petition, and even though it lacked a quorum, it suspended Williams's license for ninety days. The Board later rescinded the suspension order due to the lack of a quorum, and the OAG filed its administrative complaint against Williams.

At a January 2012 hearing before the Board, the State presented testimony from an OAG investigator and Patient A. After the State's case-in-chief, Board member Rex Stockton, a non-lawyer, indicated he was ready to vote. When he was reminded that the Board still had to hear Williams's case, he readily agreed to do so. Stockton also objected to " publishing" Patient A's deposition because he wanted to protect Patient A's confidentiality, but he again readily agreed to do so when he was told that " publishing" only meant entering the deposition into evidence. Finally, Stockton initially did not want to consider an article introduced by Williams because it was not peer-reviewed. Still, upon its admission, Stockton read the article. Based on evidence of Williams's improper conduct toward Patient A, the Board ultimately determined she had violated several statutes and regulations governing mental health counseling and revoked her license.

In March 2012, Williams filed a petition for judicial review in the Madison Circuit Court. She later filed a summary judgment motion, and the trial court held a hearing. In December 2012, the court issued an order stating its " disappointment" with the testimony of the OAG's investigator, whose unpreparedness for the administrative hearing led the court to question the quality of the investigation. Appellants' App. pp. 104-05. The court further stated that the credibility of Patient A, who it noted was mentally ill, " would have been highly suspect in a court of law." Id. at 105.

The court nonetheless concluded that " the Board's Findings of Fact are supported by substantial evidence, and it is for the Board and not the Court to weigh and evaluate that evidence." Id. Specifically, the court noted facts drawn from the evidence showing that Williams's relationship with Patient A became personal and that she ignored Patient A's requests to leave her alone:

a. Petitioner first began treating Patient A in 2005 while she was employed at Crestview Center in Anderson, Indiana. (Jan. 2012 Hearing, Testimony of Petitioner, page 143, lines 3-12).
b. Patient A suffered from dissociative identity disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and major depression. (Jan. 2012 Hearing, Testimony of Petitioner,

Page 455

page 146, lines 14-18; Petitioner's Exhibit 1, letter from Attorney Barkley Wong, p. 2)
c. There is evidence that Patient A's multiple personalities integrated long before she gave testimony in this case. ( see State's Exhibit B - email from Petitioner referencing Patient A's integration in Feb. 2010).
d. Patient A testified that over the next five years, Petitioner followed Patient A as a client as Petitioner operated her own small practice, worked for Trinity Counseling, and worked for Meridian Services (Jan. 2012 Hearing, Testimony of Patient A, page 28, lines 22-23), that Patient A remained Petitioner's client throughout her job changes ( id. at page 48, lines 20-24), and " [Petitioner] was always my therapist" ) id.
e. Petitioner continued to act as Patient A's therapist until Patient A terminated the relationship in March of 2010. (Jan. 2012 Hearing, pages 28, 38-39, 48); see also State's Exhibit D (Petitioner references her " therapeutic relationship" with Patient A in March of 2010).
f. Petitioner testified that she " worked at the various places and continued seeing Pt. A as a friend" (Testimony of Petitioner, pages 149-153). g. Petitioner testified that while acting as Patient A's counselor, Petitioner also acted as Patient A's advocate and friend and described her friendship and advocacy for A (Jan. 2012 Hearing, Testimony of Petitioner, 149-151, 215-220). see also State's Exhibit D (Petitioner discusses her " therapeutic relationship" with Patient A in March of 2010); Jan. 2012 Hearing Transcript, page 157 (" I would advocate for her" ); and State's Exhibit F (" somewhere along the way I became [Patient A's] friend" ).
h. Petitioner visited Patient A's home several times a week, including weekends to check on her, called her several times a week, and on at least one occasion, entered Patient A's home through an unlocked back door to return something to her. (State's Exhibit A, p. 2, letter attached to complaint from Petitioner's supervisor at Meridian to the Attorney General's Office)
i. In July 2009, Patient A was hospitalized at Ball Hospital and Petitioner presented Patient A's history to the treatment team who expressed concern about Petitioner's extensive involvement and knowledge in Patient A's treatment to Petitioner's supervisor at Meridian Services. ( Id.)
j. On July 20, 2009, Petitioner's supervisor at Meridian Services told Petitioner that she believed [Petitioner's] boundaries with Patient A were becoming blurred and that she felt [Petitioner] was functioning as Patient A's friend rather than a therapist. ( Id.)
k. When Petitioner's supervisor at Meridian Services told Petitioner that she was recommending that Patient A's treatment be transferred to another therapist within Meridian Services or another treatment facility in Anderson, Petitioner began crying and asked for a " middle ground" where she could still treat Patient A. ( Id.)
l. On July 20, 2009, Petitioner resigned from Meridian Services after [her] supervisor prohibited her from continuing to see Patient A. Prior to leaving, [Petitioner] informed Patient A that she would be transferred to another therapist, but after her resignation, Petitioner continued seeing Patient A. ( Id.)
m. In February of 2010, Patient A experienced an " integration" of her multiple personalities, and told Petitioner that she wanted a break from their therapeutic relationship and wanted some ...

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