Athletic trainer loses bid to reinstate license after student sexual relationship

An athletic trainer who lost her license after beginning a sexual relationship with a student-client lost her second bid at the Indiana Court of Appeals to reinstate her license.

After being hired by IU Health Paoli Hospital’s Rehab and Sports Medicine department in 2012, Molly Melton had a consensual sexual relationship with an 18-year-old patient who was a high school student. Her athletic trainer’s license was suspended for at least seven years by the Indiana Athletic Trainers Certification Board in 2014 after the relationship was reported.

The suspension was based on conduct that violated the standards of professional practice, according to the board, but Melton filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the board’s sanction. She asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for alleged violations of her constitutional rights in the disciplinary process.

In her complaint, Melton named the board, the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency and the five members of the board at the time of the disciplinary decision in their official and individual capacities. The Marion Superior Court heard the judicial review petition first and, finding that Melton had been prejudiced by the agency action, reversed the sanctions order.

After the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting immunity defenses to the § 1983 claims, the trial court granted the board’s motion and dismissed Melton’s § 1983 claim. The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, reversed on due process grounds and remanded with instructions for the board to vacate its Feb. 3, 2014, sanctions order and hold a hearing on the administrative complaint against her that comports with due process.

Pursuant to the remand instructions, the board held an administrative hearing and in a March 2017 order again found that Melton’s conduct violated Indiana Code subsections 25-1-9-4(a)(5) and (11). It placed Melton on indefinite suspension for at least three years from the date of the order, prompting her to file a petition for judicial review.

The trial court subsequently found that the board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and without substantial evidence, and that it had violated Melton’s constitutional rights. Her license status was subsequently changed to “expired.”

But in July 2019, the trial court entered summary judgment for all defendants on Melton’s §1983 claims and, finding no just reason for delay, entered final judgment on Melton’s complaint.

In a Monday decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals this time concluded the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the defendants on Melton’s § 1983 claims in Molly Ann Melton v. Indiana Athletic Trainers Board, et al.,19A-CT-1972.

Specifically, the appellate court found that “because IPLA and the Board are not amenable to a Section 1983 lawsuit, the Board Members in their individual capacities have absolute quasi-judicial immunity for their adjudicative actions, and although Melton requested injunctive relief, she did not request such relief from the Board members in their official capacities.”

“In keeping with our standard for reviewing agency actions that the facts are to be determined ‘but once[,]’ …  we conclude Melton has failed to meet her burden of demonstrating the Board’s action was invalid pursuant to the provisions of Indiana Code section 4-21.5-5-14(d), as the Board’s decision is supported by substantial evidence and we will not substitute our judgment for that of the Board regarding the appropriate sanction for Melton’s professional misconduct,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the appellate court.

The COA reversed the trial court’s judicial review order deciding otherwise and affirmed the board’s March 2017 decision.

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