Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Opinion Digests / Civil Practice / Civil Practice – Statutes of Limitations – Doctor’s License – Tort/Negligence – Constitutional

Civil Practice – Statutes of Limitations – Doctor’s License – Tort/Negligence – Constitutional

Manion v. North Carolina Medical Board (Lawyers Weekly No. 002-017-16, 22 pp.) (Terrence Boyle, J.) 5:16-cv-00063; E.D.N.C.

Holding: Even though the 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act made it easier for plaintiff to bring his discrimination claim, the amendment did not enable his claim. Therefore, plaintiff’s ADA claim is subject to the pre-2008 limitations period of two years, a filing deadline which plaintiff missed.

The court grants defendants’ motions to dismiss.

After losing his job at a Navy hospital, the plaintiff-psychiatrist complained to police of being followed and experiencing noxious odors and low frequency noises at his home and workplace. Police expressed concern about plaintiff’s mental health to the defendant North Carolina Medical Board, and defendants’ investigation led to a conclusion that plaintiff was mentally ill. In order to avoid the Medical Board’s threatened public sanction, plaintiff inactivated his medical license.

The defendant North Carolina Medical Society is a nonprofit professional medical association which serves to assist the medical profession in North Carolina in providing safe, quality medical services to its patients. Plaintiff alleges that the Medical Society and the Medical Board failed to properly oversee and supervise the defendant North Carolina Physicians Health Program, Inc. (PHP). The court is unaware of any legal basis upon which the Medical Society could be held liable for the conduct of individuals it may have appointed to the PHP board of directors. Given the paucity of plaintiff’s allegations, the court is constrained to dismiss the complaint against the Medical Society.

As a state agency, the Medical Board is immune from suit for damages under the Eleventh Amendment. As they relate to the actions taken by the Medical Board regarding plaintiff’s psychiatric and psychological evaluations and the alleged constructive suspension of his license, plaintiff’s claims are clearly retrospective. Therefore, Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), does not apply to provide an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

The Eleventh Amendment also provides immunity to the PHP, which receives state funds. The state treasury would be functionally liable for a judgment against the PHP.

Furthermore, G.S. § 90-21.22(f) provides that peer review activities conducted in good faith pursuant to an agreement with the Medical Board are “deemed to be State directed and sanctioned and shall constitute State action….” Plaintiff alleges that the peer review in this case was conducted in bad faith, but his allegations are conclusory and therefore insufficient.

As an alter ego of the state, the PHP is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Plaintiff’s claims against the individual members of the Medical Board and the PHP in their individual capacities are barred by absolute quasi-judicial immunity and qualified immunity. Members of a state medical disciplinary board are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity for performing judicial or prosecutorial functions. The same immunity extends to a physician who conducts peer review at the request of the Medical Board.

In addition, plaintiff’s procedural due process claim fails because he chose to inactivate his license rather than engage in a process wherein he could have had a hearing with legal representation, presented evidence, cross-examined witnesses, and appealed to the state superior court.

Nothing in plaintiff’s complaint can be fairly said to shock the conscience, so plaintiff has also failed to state a substantive due process claim. The state plainly has an important interest in regulating the professionals who provide medical care to its citizens.

Plaintiff’s state-law emotional distress claims against the PHP and defendant Warren Pendergrast are barred by the immunity set out in G.S. § 90-21.22(f). None of plaintiff’s allegations would support a finding that what was conducted by the PHP and Dr. Pendergrast was not peer review.

Plaintiff’s remaining claims are time-barred.

Plaintiff identifies psychological testing and evaluation which occurred in 2011 and January 2013 as the bases for his Fourth Amendment claim. His complaint was filed in February 2016, beyond the applicable three-year limitations period.

Plaintiff contends that a four-year limitations period applies to his claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act because, under the 2008 amendment to the ADA, he no longer has to demonstrate whether the disability he was perceived to have limits a major life activity.

That the 2008 amendment made plaintiff’s claim easier to demonstrate does not, however, equate to a finding that his claim was made possible by the 2008 amendment. Prior to the 2008 amendment, disability was defined to include being regarded as having an impairment, and mental illness was expressly considered to be a disability under the ADA. Working, which plaintiff alleges defendants prevented him from doing, was also considered under the pre-2008 ADA to be a major life activity.

Consequently, plaintiff’s ADA claim is governed by the most analogous North Carolina statute of limitations, which is two years.

Plaintiff knew of the injury which forms the basis of his ADA claim at the very latest by Feb. 9, 2013, when he inactivated his medical license. Plaintiff filed this suit on Feb. 8, 2016, one year beyond the two-year limitations period.

Motions granted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *