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Baliga v. Indiana Horse Racing Commission

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 1, 2018

Joseph Baliga, DVM, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
Indiana Horse Racing Commission, Indiana Horse Racing Commission Staff, Appellees-Respondents

          Appeal from the Madison Circuit Court No. 48C06-1704-MI-307 The Honorable Mark Dudley, Judge.

          Attorney for Appellant Peter J. Sacopulos Sacopulos, Johnson & Sacopulos Terre Haute, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellees Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Patricia C. McMath Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          VAIDIK, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Veterinarian Joseph Baliga was accused of giving a banned substance to a racehorse. He denies the accusation, but in a disciplinary proceeding before the Indiana Horse Racing Commission (IHRC), IHRC staff moved to have him found in default and disciplined without a hearing on the merits. Dr. Baliga opposed the motion, but an administrative law judge granted it, and the IHRC affirmed.

         [¶2] Dr. Baliga then filed a petition for judicial review challenging the entry of default. The IHRC filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that its entry of default is not subject to judicial review. The trial court granted the IHRC's motion, and Dr. Baliga appeals. We hold that the IHRC's entry of default (1) can be reviewed and (2) was an abuse of discretion. We therefore direct the trial court to grant Dr. Baliga's petition for judicial review and to remand this matter to the IHRC for a hearing on the merits.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Dr. Baliga specializes in the care and treatment of racehorses. He is licensed generally by the Indiana Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and separately by the IHRC. In the fall of 2016, Dr. Baliga was working at the track at Hoosier Park in Anderson. On September 30, a security officer reported that he had seen Dr. Baliga give a banned substance to a horse. Under the IHRC's regulations, found in Title 71 of the Indiana Administrative Code, this accusation exposed Dr. Baliga to two forms of disciplinary proceedings: (1) proceedings by IHRC judges at the track, who can impose a penalty of up to $5000 and a license suspension of up to one year, see 71 Ind. Admin. Code 10-2, and (2) proceedings by the IHRC itself, which can impose more serious sanctions-a penalty of up to $5000 per day or occurrence and a license suspension of more than one year (or a license revocation), see 71 I.A.C. 10-3. Both types of proceedings were initiated against Dr. Baliga.

         [¶4] First, on October 1, the IHRC judges at Hoosier Park imposed a "summary suspension" of Dr. Baliga's IHRC license-a temporary suspension pending a disciplinary hearing before the judges. 71 I.A.C. 10-2-3; see also Ind. Code § 4-31-12-15; Ind. Code § 4-31-13-2. At Dr. Baliga's request, the judges held a hearing on the summary suspension on October 31. Dr. Baliga was in attendance with his attorney. At the beginning of the hearing, an attorney for the IHRC explained:

As a reminder, today's hearing is not about the merits of the underlying case. The only question is whether Dr. Baliga should remain summarily suspended pending a final disciplinary hearing and a ruling.
* * * *
Today's hearing is not on the merits of the IHRC's case against Baliga.
Rather, it is only to consider whether it is appropriate for [Dr. Baliga] to remain suspended pending the hearing on any underlying charges.
The merits hearing will come later. To that end it is inappropriate for the Judges to consider eyewitness testimony or evidence relating to any ...

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