A woman was denied due process after she had her athletic trainers’ license suspended for having a sexual relationship with one of her clients, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled. Even though she did not attend her hearing, her attorney did and the complaint she filed should not have been dismissed.
Molly Melton was hired by IU Health Paoli Hospital’s Rehab and Sports Medicine department in 2012. A few months later, she had a consensual sexual relationship with a 19-year-old patient who was a high school student. The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency filed an administrative complaint relating to the matter, alleging her actions violated Indiana Code. She did not attend the athletic trainers board’s hearing on the matter because she was embarrassed, but her attorney did. She admitted to the facts of the case but not the sanctions. Because she did not attend, the board issued a notice of proposed default.
Melton objected to the default notice, but the board upheld it and suspended her license for seven years for her sexual relationship. Melton then brought a verified complaint and petition for review of administrative ruling under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, saying her federal constitutional rights were violated by the order. The board filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and the trial court granted it, dismissing Melton’s Section 1983 claim.
The COA said the board should not have dismissed Melton’s claim and that the board interpreted Indiana Code 4-21.5-3-24(a) incorrectly. Indiana Code says if a party fails to do certain things, including attending a hearing, the defendants can apply for default. But the term “party” includes counsel, and Melton’s counsel attended the hearing. The COA punctuated this decision by citing a board decision from a few years back in which it said appearance by an attorney was sufficient.
This dismissal of her claim resulted in Melton not receiving due process. The suspension of Melton’s license is of critical importance because it allows her to do her job, the COA said. “Conversely, there is no apparent governmental interest that would justify a disregard of procedures set forth by the legislature; rather, those procedures must be followed, especially when such an important private interest is at stake,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the panel.
The COA remanded the decision to the board and ordered it to provide Melton with an administrative hearing.
The case is Molly A. Melton v. Indiana Athletic Trainers Board, et al. and the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, 49A05-1508-CT-1123.