If you have received a letter from the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board about a complaint, you may be uncertain about what to do next, what the procedures are, and what the results may be. You may also be trying to decide whether you need to retain an attorney. Our firm represents veterinarians and veterinary technicians (hereafter, “licensees”) in responding to the Veterinary Medical Board and defending against allegations of misconduct.
In the sections below, we attempt to address some of the questions you may have and explain the general process, procedures, and possible results.
North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board
As background, the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board (“Board”) was established by the State Legislature to regulate the practice of veterinary medicine. The Board consists of 8 members appointed by various lawmakers, including the Governor: six Board members are licensed veterinarians; one is a licensed veterinary technician; and one is a public member. The Board meets six times per year.
Possible Outcomes of a Complaint against a Licensee
In general, complaints are most often resolved in one of five ways:
Disciplinary Authority of the Board
The Board has the authority to impose discipline against any person who has been found by the Board to have committed the following acts or conduct, or for any of the following reasons, among others:
When the Board receives a complaint concerning a licensee, the Board’s Executive Director will notify the licensee of the nature of the complaint. The licensee must respond to the complaint, in writing, within twenty days of notification.
In drafting a response to an inquiry regarding a complaint, it is important for you to include all information and documentation necessary to respond to the allegations fairly and fully. However, it is equally important for you to include only the pertinent information and documentation. We help our clients make these judgments and determinations from an objective standpoint and with knowledge of and experience with the process in defending matters before the Veterinary Medical Board. A copy of the licensee’s written response is then forwarded to the complainant. The complainant is then given twenty days from receipt of the letter to reply.
The matter is then referred to the Committee on Investigations. The Committee consists of three members of the Board. The Committee will investigate the complaint and may:
Upon completion of the investigation, the Committee will determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the licensee has violated any standard of misconduct that would justify a disciplinary hearing.
If probable cause is found but it is determined that a disciplinary hearing is not warranted, the Committee may issue a reprimand to the licensee and notice will be mailed to the licensee. Within 15 days of receipt of the reprimand, the licensee may refuse the reprimand and request that a Notice of Hearing be issued. If the letter of reprimand is accepted, a record of the reprimand will be maintained at the office of the Board.
If no probable cause is found, the Committee will dismiss the charges and prepare a statement of the reasons which will be mailed to the licensee and the complainant.
If no probable cause is found but it is determined by the Committee that the conduct of the licensee is not in accordance with accepted professional practice or may be the subject of discipline if continued or repeated, the Committee will issue a letter of caution to the licensee stating that the conduct is not professionally acceptable or may be the basis for a disciplinary hearing if repeated. A record of the letter of caution will be maintained at the office of the Board.
Formal Disciplinary Proceedings
If it is determined that a disciplinary hearing is warranted, the Board issues a Notice of Hearing providing the parties no less than 15 days’ notice before the hearing. The licensee may personally or through counsel appear and cross examine witnesses, present evidence in his/her defense, assert objections and make arguments. The North Carolina Rules of Evidence generally apply to contested disciplinary hearings. Many veterinarians or other licensees decide to retain a firm or attorney to represent them at the formal stage if they have not done so already.
Disciplinary hearings generally are conducted before the full Board or by a panel consisting of at least a majority of Board members and are held at the Board’s office. Hearings conducted by the Veterinary Medical Board generally are open to the public. In all cases heard by the Veterinary Medical Board, the Board typically will issue its decision within 60 days after its next regularly scheduled meeting following the close of the hearing. An Order issued by the Board may be appealed to Superior Court. Generally, it is much more difficult for a licensee to prevail once the matter reaches the court system on an appeal, even if he or she retains legal counsel at that point.
Licensure Applications and Hearings
Our firm also represents and assists applicants in licensure hearings before the Veterinary Medical Board. An applicant denied a license may request a formal hearing before the Board. The Board will notify the applicant of the time and place of a public hearing. The burden of satisfying the Board of his or her qualifications for licensure is on the applicant. Following the hearing, the Board will determine whether the applicant is entitled to be licensed.
Impact of Decision of Whether to Retain an Experienced Law Firm
If you have received a letter from the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board or have a pending formal hearing, you should consider retaining a firm like ours that has experience representing veterinarians and other licensees before the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board. We have a good working relationship with counsel for the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board and may be able to negotiate an acceptable resolution without the need for a formal hearing, if the complaint is not dismissed. Disciplinary action could have a significant and permanent impact on your reputation and license, which also can substantially affect you financially and personally. Representation at the informal stage is significantly less expensive than in a formal evidentiary hearing. The investment in protecting your reputation, license, and livelihood generally is more cost-effective in the early stages. In almost all cases, getting us involved early is our firm’s best opportunity to assist you in obtaining a favorable or acceptable outcome.