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COSA Makes Clear that a Physician’s License May be Revoked Without a Hearing Following a Crime of Moral Turpitude

December 2, 2021 By Rebecca K. Schisler-Adams

Maryland Courts have long recognized the property interest physicians have in their medical licenses. In 1998, the Court of Appeals emphasized this interest, holding that “the right of a licensed physician to practice medicine is a property right of which a physician cannot be deprived without due process of law.” Md. Bd. of Physician Quality Assurance v. Felsenberg, 351 Md. 288, 306 (1998). The Court of Special Appeals recently clarified, however, that a doctor’s “right to practice is not absolute and his license may be revoked” without a hearing, pursuant to the State’s police power and interest in public health and safety. Burke v. Md. Bd. Of Physicians, 250 Md. App. 334 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2021).

In Burke, the Maryland State Board of Physicians revoked Dr. Burke’s license after Dr. Burke entered guilty pleas to five counts of prescribing controlled dangerous substances—all misdemeanors—in violation of Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 5-902(c). Dr. Burke had prescribed Oxycodone, Amphetamine (commonly “Adderall”), Alprazolam (commonly “Xanax”), and Diazepam to individuals with whom he shared a personal relationship—and the record indicated that at least one of those individuals went on to sell the prescribed drugs.

Although Dr. Burke pleaded with the Board to allow him to provide a more detailed rationale for the prescriptions at issue, the conviction itself was undisputed. The Board took into account the criminal nature of Dr. Burke’s conduct and found that it showed “disregard for social norms and the ethical standards in the medical profession” such that the conduct was that of moral turpitude.

The statute controlling the Board’s authority, HO § 14-404(b)(2), provides that the Board shall revoke a medical license after a finding of a crime of moral turpitude. Thus, the Board denied Dr. Burke the opportunity for a hearing, indicating that the legislature intended that disciplinary proceedings not re-litigate the underlying conduct in question.

Dr. Burke argued that a hearing should have been awarded to determine whether the misdemeanor offenses at-issue were indeed crimes of moral turpitude and that the conviction itself does not establish the standard required by the statute. The Court of Special Appeals disagreed, holding that the statute was written to provide an expedited disposition, and allowing Dr. Burke another opportunity to contest the factual basis of his plea would be at odds with the statute’s purpose.

As such, the Court of Special Appeals found that the Board properly abided by the requisite statute, making clear that a hearing is not required when a physician is convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, regardless of the severity of the charges, and the Board may rely on a guilty plea to conclude whether a crime fits the moral turpitude requirement.