Baker v. North Carolina Psychology Board (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-111-17, 13 pp.) (Richard Dietz, J.) Appealed from Durham County Superior Court (Orlando Hudson Jr., J.) N.C. App. Unpub.
Holding: Where the petitioner-psychologist’s failure to communicate with another professional – an attorney representing the father in a custody case – detrimentally affected the attorney’s ability to represent the father, the psychologist violated G.S. § 90-270.15(a)(19).
We reverse the superior court’s reversal of the respondent-board’s decision to discipline petitioner. We remand for consideration of petitioner’s argument concerning the magnitude of the discipline imposed.
Petitioner argues that no client suffered any harm as a result of her failure to communicate because her client was the court and, in the end, the court was satisfied with her work. However, G.S. § 90-270.15(a)(19) does not depend on the client’s satisfaction with the psychologist’s performance.
The statute extends to the impact a psychologist’s conduct has on other professionals’ ability to do their jobs, including instances where a psychologist’s lack of cooperation with another professional has the potential to (or does) detrimentally affect a recipient of the psychologist’s services. Thus, even if the court was petitioner’s client and she owed no professional obligation to the parents or the children in the custody case, that does not mean she could not be disciplined under § 90-270.15(a)(19) for her failure to communicate with the father’s lawyer in a manner that harmed the parents and their children.
The evidence supports the board’s decision that petitioner violated § 90-270.15(a)(19) because there is relevant evidence a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the board’s finding that petitioner failed to cooperate with the father’s attorney “to the potential or actual detriment of clients, patients, or other recipients of service….” The board properly determined that, by unreasonably failing to respond to the attorney’s and the father’s repeated attempts to learn the status of her court-ordered custody evaluation over the course of many months, petitioner caused the parents to suffer unnecessary stress and anxiety and harmed the attorney’s relationship with his client.
Petitioner also challenged the discipline imposed: the board prohibited her from taking on new cases for six months and imposed a set of training and monitoring requirements. The superior court never reached this issue because it concluded that all the grounds for discipline were unsupported by substantial evidence in the record. We therefore remand for the superior court to address petitioner’s argument concerning the magnitude of the discipline imposed.
Reversed and remanded.s